A dozen or so parents and a handful of current members of the Lassiter High School band program signed up for a public comment session Wednesday at the Cobb Board of Education, demanding a new director for the school's touted marching band and orchestral music programs.
But it's Cobb County School District and school board policy not to permit public comment on personnel matters -- whether it's uttered by district and school employees, board members or members of the public during official meetings.
So instead of allowing each signed-up speaker to come to the microphone, the board took an official recess and met with the Lassiter parents and students in small, informal groupings.
After nearly 30 minutes, the board went into an executive session to discuss other matters.
The Lassiter parents and students who attended are upset with Principal Chris Richie's appointment of Ginny Markham in May as the school's band director and want the board to do something about it.
Their previous efforts, they say, have been unsatisfactory, from dealing with Richie to taking their concerns to high-level school system officials.
"We've gone through the proper chain of command," said Barb Sobel, the mother of a sophomore band member at Lassiter. "But he [Richie] is sticking by his hire."
Following a legend
Markham isn't unfamiliar to the Lassiter community. A former drum major for the University of Georgia's Redcoat Marching Band, she was a former assistant band director at Lassiter and Kell and was hired to return to the Shallowford Road school after heading the band program at Allatoona.
But in following the massive legacy left behind by the now-retired Dr. Alfred Watkins, who created Lassiter's band program 31 years ago and made it an award-winning one, Markham also has stepped into a gauntlet of almost immediate criticism and demands that she's got to go.
The comments about Markham are harsh -- that she doesn't have adequate knowledge about music, lacks the skill set to deal with all components of an advanced, multi-faceted music program and that she's in over her head.
"She doesn't know what to do in the classroom," said junior Jacob Greifinger.
Some parents are just as upset with the hiring process, saying Richie wasn't transparent about it, and that he ended up hiring Markham -- the wife of Gary Markham, the Cobb district's recently retired supervisor of music programs -- over more qualified candidates.
Among them, they say, is Laura Borchert, the most recent assistant Lassiter band director who left the district in the spring, after Markham was hired.
Lassiter senior band member Tyler Boone said he and other students wanted to be patient with a new director, given the enormous presence of Watkins.
"We knew there was going to be a lot to get used to," he said. But a month into the school year, he said he and other students sensed that Markham wasn't what they were hoping for.
"We want a change of direction," said Boone, who personally spoke with several board members Wednesday. "This was the next logical step."
That's how Lassiter band parent Roger Toland feels. His daughter, a member of the marching and Symphonic II bands, expressed concerns about how Markham was directing the program, and he sought out more information from other parents.
"If it wasn't for my daughter saying, 'please do something,' I wouldn't be here," Toland said. "We moved to Lassiter for the music program."
He said his wife met with Richie, but "didn't get any acceptable answers."
'We're not going to go there'
Cobb school board member David Banks represents the Lassiter district, and has heard plenty from band parents. But he said that while it's "unfortunate" the criticism about Markham has gone public, it's not the board's job to intervene.
"They're going to have to work it out with their principal," Banks said. "We're not going to go there."
He said it's a board policy to stay out of hiring decisions, as well as to refrain from making public statements about school district personnel. "The board has only one employee: the superintendent."
But he's also confident Lassiter's band program is strong enough to withstand the controversy and continue to provide a top-rate music education for students.
"We have a very good band program at Lassiter and it's going to get even better over time," Banks said.
Toland is not alone among band parents in wondering about that assertion.
"It's occurred to me that I've become an East Cobb snob," he said. "I've come to expect the best."