Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Back Story: Good Man Gone

I learned at Community Band rehearsal last night that Dennis Farmer has resigned as the YS Schools Band Director. Not only was Dennis one of the best band directors and music teachers in the history of our schools, he was also a thoughtful and caring teacher. This is a terrific loss to our school system. I wish it weren't so...

I heard some of how this came about, but it would be wrong for me to report it here, as it would probably be inaccurate and incomplete. Suffice it to say Dennis was not happy with increasing demands the school administration was putting on him. In the opinion of others, supposedly in the know, he took as much as he could, until he couldn't take no more.

I have known Dennis in two contexts, as director of the Yellow Springs Community Band and as my son's school music teacher a few years back. When Dennis took over the band director job in town several years ago, he agreed to continue the community band tradition and enhanced it with careful rehearsal and direction, and by instituting the annual band alumni/YSHS-McKinney/Community Band concert. The band got better under his direction and eventually former Antioch College Music Department head James Johnston joined him to share the duties. It has been a great collaboration. The band has never sounded better.

But here's the important part: Dennis, as a teacher in general was more caring about his students' welfare than you would expect from a music teacher. My son was diagnosed with a learning disability as he was entering McKinney and was afforded an IEP. As his parent, I attended periodic evaluation sessions with the Special Ed Director, the school psychiatrist and some of his teachers. Teacher attendance at the meetings was spotty, and I always understood that, for the most part, it wasn't that they were blowing us off, it was because their duties required them to be elsewhere. Some of them, however, were blowing us off.

After Dennis took over, he started attending these sessions. My reaction, the first time, was what is the band director doing here? Who would expect..? Over the years, he kept showing up. But it didn't take long for me to learn why. From time-to-time, Dennis would collar me at Community Band practice and inform me about my son's behavior in band. It wasn't that he was ratting him out - it was that he was genuinely concerned. He still asks about him, even though he graduated four years ago and hadn't been his student for an additional two years before that, because he had left YSHS to attend the Greene County Career Center.

This is the man we are losing - a model teacher by all accounts and in my personal experience. Why is this so? Is it because in this town that prides itself as being artsy and has more music groups than you would normally find in a town ten times its size doesn't truly value music education? I'd hate to think it... But, in other school systems, when money gets tight, it's music and art that go first. Was there some ultimatum put to Dennis? As I said, I don't know for sure. But when good teachers start quitting, we should start asking why.


Gilah Pomeranz said...

Thanks for writing this, Virgil. It needed to be said, and you said it well. Dennis Farmer reminds me in his compassion and commitment of the legendary Shirley Mullins, and that's no small compliment. A sad, and probably preventable, loss to our entire community.

Les Groby said...

Very sad news. Our little school system can't work without strong connections to the community. Mr. Farmer was one of those strong links.