Until the arrival this year of an enthusiastic rookie teacher named Charles Van Middlesworth II, Tonganoxie High School's music program was hitting more low than high notes.
"He's turned the program completely around in one year. He's a personable, engaging young man who kids really respect," said Tonganoxie High School principal Mike Bogart.
Van Middlesworth, a 25-year-old Kansas University graduate who plays sax and clarinet with Lawrence's five-piece Swing 39 jazz band in his spare time, is getting raves from administrators, townspeople and, perhaps more tellingly, from the students who perform in the school band and choir, both of which are coached by Van Middlesworth.
"It's a lot better this year. We're actually together," said Misty Ingerson, a senior and tenor saxophone player in the school's double-duty concert/marching band.
"I love it. We're better than last year," said junior Tasha Johnson, a drum major with the band.
"He's awesome. He likes to have fun," said freshman trumpeter Rachel Kelly.
When Van Middlesworth convened band camp last summer, interest in the program was so low that only 35 students showed. But word about the new band director quickly spread. Within two weeks band membership had nearly doubled.
He's a bit of a showman. For the school's Christmas concert, he showed up wearing a Santa suit.
"The costume is a family heirloom," Van Middlesworth said. "It's been passed down."
When the new Sears store in Lawrence had its grand opening not long ago, the Tonganoxie High School band was invited to perform on a recommendation from KU band director Robert Foster.
"I'm so happy he did that," Van Middlesworth said.
Van Middlesworth said his long-term goal is to make the Tonganoxie band competitive with those from much larger districts, such as Lawrence, Shawnee Mission and Blue Valley, and rack up wins in various band competitions.
"There's no reason in my mind why Tongie can't compete with those schools," he said.
Next year, Van Middlesworth said, he aims to increase current band membership from 68 to 87. Within four years, he would like to see membership reach 120. Van Middlesworth said he also has a plan, to be instituted in stages, to make the band a winner at KU's annual marching band competition.
He's enrolled parents in a booster organization called the VIP Club.
"It's just the right time for the music program to blossom here because the community's ready for it," Van Middlesworth said. "I'm just glad to be a part of it. It's great to have all this positive stuff around me."
-- Mike Shields' phone message number is 832-7144. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.