Sunday Times Newspapers
RIVERVIEW — Band members, parents and community members addressed the Riverview Community Schools Board of Education in support of and against the new instrumental music director at the high school for the next school year.
Alex Pickell is set to become Riverview Community High School band director while maintaining his instrumental music teacher responsibilities at Seitz Middle School.
A student, Nora, was the first to address the board during the June 28 meeting’s second public comment section. She was supported by other students.
Nora said she has been in band for about seven years, with four years in marching band and currently holds the title of color guard captain.
She spoke about one of her first days as captain where she went to Seitz Middle School to promote the color guard to students. At the end of the day, she attended an eighth-grade band class, which she said was a group of students who were “incredibly disrespectful.”
“It was very apparent to us the teacher was not in control of his students,” she said. “This is when I saw first-hand that the middle school band teacher was inattentive to his students and failed to treat his class like students instead of kids he had to babysit for an hour a day.”
She connected that story to the issue of the band not yet receiving their marching music, which is typically provided before the end of the school year.
This gives the band time to rehearse together as a group for the last two or three weeks of school, Nora explained. She also said they were given the theme only 11 days earlier, but still did not have music and didn’t know who was going to officially be in band.
“We have less than 40 people in marching band,” she said. “Freshman year we had 105 members and since then numbers have been decreasing. I don’t say these things to bash any teacher or person, but I know that myself and many other students want him to be held accountable for his actions or lack thereof.
“Our band program is dying and the lack of leadership and preparedness will lead to further decline and interest in the program.”
Ryan Pickell, brother to Alex Pickell, a coach in the district and former marching band member, said he doesn’t know how a middle school teacher who started in January affects the high school band members, especially when the enrollment from the fifth grade into sixth grade is the highest its been in a long time.
“It is a bit unfortunate that we have parents that are trying to maybe coerce students into speaking bad about people who they have really never met before,” he said.
A student, Miles, who has been in band since fifth grade and is going into his sophomore year, responded during public comment to Ryan Pickell.
“The way a middle school band teacher that just became a middle school band teacher is affecting the high school band students is by him becoming the new high school band director,” he said.
“He is now responsible for all the materials and all we need moving into this new marching band season, and he is not providing the materials and content we need as a band.”
Several parents also showed their support for their children and the band, while listing the concerns they had with the communication of information.
A volunteer nurse for the band camp, Clara, said her son is in the band, but that neither one received information about when the camp is, medical needs of the students and the music.
“Prior to this, the students have received music before camp so they spend the time learning the routine and learning the music,” she said.
During his comments, Ryan Pickell brought up the topic of booster clubs, since there had been a lot of talk about that topic.
“My booster clubs for swimming, track — I have awesome parents, whenever we have a booster club it seems to be,” he said. “You have something you want to fundraise for, you set up appropriate fundraisers to do that, and you make the purchase and you’re done. Those purchases, from my experience benefit the students.”
He went on to say that with the funds raised, uniforms, gear and equipment were purchased to help to get a competitive edge against other teams in the area and at the state level. He said there also were years that fundraising wasn’t needed so it didn’t take place.
“I’m not sure where the confusion is of not knowing what’s going on with the band program or the band camp,” Ryan Pickell said. “Some band booster club representatives met with Alex when they asked him to and he told them what the plan was, and for some reason they decided to go back to Facebook and say they were confused and they don’t have any information for any parents.”
The issue of pricing for the band camp was raised by Ryan Pickell when he said that the band director said band camp should be $50 and then the booster club suggested $250.
“I don’t understand, unless there is some plan to fundraise for a specific thing that makes sense for the students,” he said. “It’s unfortunate, I don’t know if any of the students here are going to see any of the funds raised go toward anything that they can appreciate.
“I don’t know where those funds are supposed to be going to, and it makes me question the efficacy of the people involved especially when there are people that no longer have students in band that seem to want to have some role in where these funds are used.”
Jennifer Guest, also a band parent, said she was at the meeting to support the children, “who are the most important thing here.
“To be here and viciously attacked that we are keeping money is ridiculous and to have info for somebody who wasn’t even at the meeting thrown at us, that’s not right either.”
She responded to Ryan Pickell’s comments by referencing that the $50 was suggested, but it had to be voted on.
“We can’t just say, ‘Here is what it is,’ and then three weeks after we vote yes. That’s not how it works,” she said. “We’re here for the kids and we want the kids to be heard and have fun more than anything.
“Some of these kids don’t know what’s going on and we don’t even know how some of these kids found out about it but they’re here and they need to be supported.”
She said the board needs to be able to have to somebody to work with, mentioning a meeting where they were “disrespected” by a board member.
“We were at a loss for words,” Guest said. “We went in with an open mind and smiles, and to be disrespected by somebody that represents this school district, we didn’t know what to say. We’re willing to work with people. Our books are open to look at them, but to be here and told we’re trying to sneak something through or being malicious is not true.”
Following the comments, Supt. Russell Pickell — who retired June 30, and father to Alex and Ryan Pickell — touched on various items regarding the band and Alex Pickell.
“I want to reiterate some of the comments we had talked about last night for the rest of the band people here,” Russell Pickell said. “First of all, administratively, we recognize your frustration. I have heard that there have been some disheartening comments regarding the decline of the band program over the past four years. I remember when we had the 105 members and started to dwindle.
He said COVID-19 had some impact on that, but some residual problems with the personnel at the time also were known. Riverview Community High School Principal Joseph Hatzl — who is set to become superintendent for the upcoming school year — made personnel decisions at the close of the school year, Russell Pickell said.
“He had some difficult decisions to make as to the entire music program at the high school,” Russell Pickell said. “We went from having a full case load for a high school music teacher of five sections, down to a relatively anemic two sections. So, with that he had to make some changes, and with those changes, he had to come up with a resolution as well.
“Mr. (Alex) Pickell was not made aware of that situation until well into June. He had to work with not only the middle school administration but the high school administration and was asked to be part of that solution.”
The band booster board was told June 27 that Alex Pickell has a full schedule at the middle school because of the numbers that he was able to bring into the sixth grade.
“He has agreed to sell his prep period for next year in order to teach the high school class,” Russell Pickell said. “In addition to that, he also agreed to take on the extracurricular activity of the marching band.
“He did not have an opportunity to — once that decision was made — to close out the rest of the school year like every other teacher. He had that responsibility. He had some enrichment things he had to address and a vacation planned.”
In terms of experience, Russell Pickell said that Alex Pickell has run band camps before, two at the college level, in addition to his drum major experience at RCHS.
“He is passionate about this program,” Russell Pickell said. “This is the program he grew up in. He was a very proud member of his marching band. He has seen the numbers grow. He does not want to see a decline. He wants to see the same revitalization that you do.
“In short, you have the right person in place for this. Personnel decisions are messy. They take time and they are necessary.”
Russell Pickell said communication would be coming through, including on Schoology, and that would provide the opportunity for everyone to pull together to show their support for the program.
“At this point I think there is a lot of misinformation and frustration with the way that the change happened, how it had to happen, and the communication after that,” he said. “If we want to be successful and revitalize the high school music program, we’re going to have to do it together.
“If everyone is going to continue to nitpick and fight with each other, it’s not going to work. Boosters have a very important role in that, but it is a defined role.”
In closing, Russell Pickell said that Alex Pickell is taking on the role because he wants the program to succeed and thrive.
“The band director also answers to administration, and this one answers to administration in two different buildings,” Russel Pickell said. “So there is a lot of responsibility involved in this position, but do not question the commitment and passion that Mr. Pickell will bring to this program.”
Alex Pickell is putting together a band program and a band camp that he hoped will be free for all participants so that they will have the opportunity to be able to perform in-house, Russell Pickell said.
“It will be done on school grounds and he knows what his responsibilities are,” Russell Pickell said. “He does not want to look foolish. If he did, he would’ve just politely declined.”
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected])