Lassiter Band Parents, Students Want New Director

They pressed the Cobb school board to replace the newly-appointed head of the school's touted music programs.

Cobb school board member Scott Sweeney (right) hears the concerns of some Lassiter band parents at Wednesday's meeting. Photo: Wendy Parker
Cobb school board member Scott Sweeney (right) hears the concerns of some Lassiter band parents at Wednesday's meeting. Photo: Wendy Parker
They came ready to speak, on the record, with cameras rolling and recording devices turned on. 

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."
Joe Bobby December 12, 2013 at 07:31 AM
It looks like the self-proclaimed "East Cobb snobs" need to make the music program a private one and fund it privately if they expect to maintain their standards. Why would anyone on a teacher's salary expose themselves to a mob mentality. Many of the teacher's put in more time at their work because of their love for the students than these parents do at their jobs and get paid significantly less.
Pete Fordonski December 12, 2013 at 07:53 AM
@ Joe- In all reality, the program funds itself. I have never seen a program of any activity that raises it's own funds as much as the Lassiter band. They are at The Dome for every event down there, constantly holding sales, and are super involved in the community. The program inspires students from elementary school on up and to dismiss them simply for wanting the best for their children is crass.
Joe Bobby December 12, 2013 at 08:25 AM
@ Pete - No issues with parents wanting the best for their children but it also has to be considered that the leader is not a highly paid professional band leader. They are first and foremost, a teacher working on teacher's wages. Most of the teachers I know have a genuine love for all of their students (beyond what many of the parents see or think) and want nothing more than to see those students succeed later in life as well as have success under their leadership as a teacher. I am also not dismissing students in the program so my comments were not meant to come off as crass. I do understand and am very aware that many of the activities of the band are paid for by private money and this is the majority of the cost of the program but the parents must also take into consideration the leadership structure of the program. I don't think any of us as effective leaders have ever made everyone 100% happy and we know that criticism is part of the path but the open criticism and attacking of a teacher by parents and students shows a complete lack of respect and teaches children lessons that will only hurt the next generation. My comment above was intended to say if the parents want complete control of the program (which appears to be the intent of some), then the program needs to be private and the parents can select the leader of their choice. The current leader is not elected and I am sure she was hired because of her qualifications.
Pete Fordonski December 12, 2013 at 09:17 AM
Thank you for clarifying. I have the tremendous respect and admiration for those that choose the teaching profession, and understand the sacrifices they have made. I will say that the position at Lassiter is a desirable one for those in that line of work and must be a monumental job. I simply hope that she was interviewed and vetted properly without regard to her spouse happens to be. Bottom line is that with any organization, following a legend is a daunting task.
Russell Sauve December 12, 2013 at 09:31 AM
If these parents are successful it will all but guarantee they will never get quality a band director. No educator in their right mind would take over a program that is effected by such a small vocal group of parents that ran to the press. And then where will the program be?
lisa56 December 12, 2013 at 01:57 PM
It's a high school band, people! If this is the worst of your problems you are living a charmed life indeed.
Pete Fordonski December 12, 2013 at 09:00 PM
@lisa56 A charmed life is what everyone tries to make for their children. For you to dismiss the desire for these parents to try and achieve the best for their kids makes one wonder. This particular "just high school band" is one of excellence and one of the best in the country. Trying to maintain that should be a priority. It benefits all Cobb residents.
lisa56 December 13, 2013 at 12:58 AM
@Pete Fordonski - If you truly believe that Lassiter's band benefits all Cobb County residents you are delusional. I know many band parents who live and breathe everything band related. However, when that involvement involves attempting to destroy the reputation of a new band director at Lassiter I am disgusted. Your program does not fund itself. The taxpayers of Cobb County fund your band director and without a band director you have no band. Russell Sauve is correct in pointing out that with the turmoil created by some of the Lassiter band members and their parents attracting the best will be very difficult. I would venture to bet that the previous band director built the award winning band program over a long period of time. It is only fair that the new band director be given more than one semester to do the same. My only other suggestion would be to clone the former band director.
Pete Fordonski December 13, 2013 at 09:58 AM
@lisa56 You are missing my point. When any program at any Cobb school does well and brings positive exposure to the system, then everyone in the system benefits. That includes athletics, academics, the arts or any other endeavors the kids are involved with. To dismiss someones passion by saying "it's just a high school band" is insulting. Hopefully I have navigated through my delusion and stated my position in a manner that you understand.
lisa56 December 14, 2013 at 01:24 AM
Well, Pete Fordonski, we are each allowed our own opinions. I suggest we agree to disagree.
SMDH December 14, 2013 at 08:37 AM
Someone needs to explain to these parents and students that being a member of an organization does not qualify you to be a LEADER of that organization. To the complaining parents and students : Your opinion matters when: you go to college, earn a degree in music education, get credentialed in your state, persuade a school board to hire you and start working with your students and staff, and hope to God your juniors and seniors give you more of a chance than you've given your director. It's like a high school football player complaining about his coach. Would that player ever get off the bench? These parents and students are misinformed at best or arrogant at worst. These students should be immediately thrown out of the band and let them try and explain to a college admissions officer how they have problems dealing with authority. Cliff in PA
Jeremy Barfield December 14, 2013 at 11:27 AM
Along the same lines as the end of Cliff's comment- to the kids that went public: good luck trying to get into a higher end collegiate program (JSU, UGA, etc) with that kind of attitude. The MDJ article went viral virtually overnight, and your names are out there. If the parents are so worried about the return on investment, maybe they should send their kids off to march in a DCI corps...


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