The Seymour High School band is known for entertaining crowds at home football games, helping to kick off the Seymour Oktoberfest and leading the annual downtown Seymour Evening Lions Club Halloween Parade.

Band students participate in IU Band Day and travel to Florida to perform at Disney World.

The program has become so popular over the years, however, it is experiencing major growing pains, according to Tim Hardin, the organization’s booster club president.

Hardin and band director Kevin Cottrill recently spoke to the school board about the department’s ongoing needs, including additional staff, expansion of facilities and more uniforms and equipment.

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“On behalf of over 1,000 band parents, I want to address the growth of the band department and some of the challenges that creates,” Hardin said. “The past six years have seen substantial growth in the department from the sixth grade to the high school level, with the largest growth being in just the last three years.”

Over a period of five years, Seymour Community Schools’ band program has grown by 206 students — 126 at Seymour Middle School and 80 at the high school. Total enrollment in band this school year for sixth grade through 12th grade is 510, with 190 of those at the high school

Hardin said that in the past six years, enrollment has increased at every level — sixth grade by 51 percent; seventh grade by 84 percent; eighth grade by 65 percent jump; and the high school by 73 percent.

Next school year, the high school band is expected to have about 235 members, Cottrill said.

“It’s uncharted,” he said. “I’ve never experienced anything like that.”

The growth of the band is not directly related to the school’s overall enrollment, Hardin said. There are some years when total school enrollment has gone down but involvement in band has gone up.

Retention rates also have increased, he said.

“We are starting to keep more band students involved in the department as they progress in their years at the school,” he said. “It’s a fantastic thing to include this many kids from all walks of life in one group where they can be a part of performing and be a part of one group instead of being isolated, separated by their social status.”

But with continued growth comes a need for additional help to teach. Cottrill and SMS band director Ellen Mirer are the only full-time band department employees.

Two years ago, a part-time band instructor, Debbie Carroll, was hired to help in the classroom; and the department was fortunate to have longtime volunteer Les Gilkey at the middle school. But at 100 years old, Gilkey retired this year.

“We have two-and-a-half teachers that are working with 510 students. That’s an unheard of student/teacher ratio to try to teach students instrumental skills and how to play instruments,” Hardin said. “We would never look at putting that many kids with a couple of teachers in any other situation, and I think we’re shortchanging the program and the students.”

He suggested the board make Carroll a full-time employee and possibly hire another person to work individually with certain areas of the department, such as horns, wind or percussion.

Cottrill described other area schools’ programs. Columbus East High School has fewer than 100 band members and has two full-time directors. Columbus North High School has about 175 members and also has two full-time directors, he said.

“Immediately, we would like to make Debbie Carroll a full-time position and then look at a percussion person right out of college as another full-time person,” Cottrill said. “That would alleviate some of the stress we have when we go outside. Right now, we are 180 students to two. I feel uncomfortable for the safety of the kids. I feel uncomfortable when I can’t be everywhere, and I feel uncomfortable when I think about what could possibly happen.”

School board member Jeff Joray suggested looking into hiring someone part time to help out this year.

“I think it would be worth it,” he said.

Cottrill said he thinks it will be “extremely challenging” to find a qualified part-time person.

Hardin also asked the board review the size and function of the department’s band facilities at all of the schools.

“It’s very tough getting this many students in the size of rooms that we have,” he said. “We also have a shortage of storage for instruments, for uniforms and for any other items that support and help the band and the functions they carry out.” 

He said the band department needs bigger facilities and some additional organized storage areas and asked the board to consider those needs as it continues to discuss and make plans for renovations at the schools.

Seymour High School hasn’t been renovated since the 1990s, and that work actually downsized the band room, Hardin said.

Ongoing issues with flooding in that part of the building and a leaking air conditioner have added to the band department’s woes over the years, he said.

“We would like the board to strongly consider including this largest growing department at the high school in those plans and look at what options could help the facilities to accommodate the students and the teaching that is going on there,” he said.

To potentially assist with ongoing band department expenses, such as purchasing sheet music and providing instruments to low-income families, Hardin asked the board to review the department’s budget.

“I’m not sure what those numbers are; but as the numbers continue to grow, so do the expenses,” he said. “We don’t leave this all to the school board, as the band itself does fundraisers and so does the boosters. We use that money to help cover some of those expenses.”

Hardin said the board has been supportive of the band in the past by helping to purchase new uniforms and a new drum line, both of which he said were past their lifespan.

The booster club, which is made up of parents of band members and supporters of the program, recently received a grant for $3,269 from JCB, which was used to purchase 25 new music stands, two large music stand carts and two chair carts to help move chairs and stands back and forth from the stage to the band room, Hardin said.

Although he never was in band when he was in school, Hardin said, his daughter was involved for seven years before graduating, and his son is in his third year.

“As I got involved and started being around concerts and parades, I saw the impact that this has on the lives of the kids that are involved,” he said. “This isn’t just about supporting band. I’ve seen the program and what it does. I see those differences being made in kids’ lives.”

Hardin said he often gets asked why the band is growing so much and if it could be limited in size to help with some of the problems and costs.

“I don’t see how we can curb the growth or exclude anyone from something that is making a positive impact,” he said.

With another 35 to 45 new band students expected to join next school year, Hardin said the department already has exceeded the number of uniforms the school board helped purchase four years ago.

“We are looking at needing to purchase more uniforms and are already working on fundraisers to do that,” he said.

School board President Art Juergens said trustees are aware of the problems and want to work with the band department to help with the situation.

“The community probably has no idea the amount of growth in the band,” he said. “We’ll do some talking and put together some numbers.”

By the numbers

Seymour Community Schools band program

Enrollment

Grade;2015-16;2014-15;2013-14;2012-13;2011-12;2010-11

Sixth;116;109;119;96;78;77

Seventh;105;96;70;57;47;57

Eighth;99;56;56;42;48;60

Total SMS;320;261;245;195;173;194

Total SHS;190;180;165;156;137;110

Total band;510;441;410;351;310;304

Pull Quote

“We have two-and-a-half teachers that are working with 510 students. That’s an unheard of student/teacher ratio to try to teach students instrumental skills and how to play instruments. We would never look at putting that many kids with a couple of teachers in any other situation, and I think we’re shortchanging the program and the students.”

Tim Hardin, president of the Seymour band program booster organization

Author photo
January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.