By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Last June, Assistant Superintendent Cox wrote up Flaherty — a reprimand often reserved for failing teachers who come to school drunk, sleep at their desks or don’t show up at all. Flaherty refused to sign the June 5 “notice of unprofessional conduct and unsatisfactory performance” after talking to a union representative.
Throughout her feud with Flaherty, Dragone also made a point of writing him up for alleged failures to discipline students, and other lapses. But Flaherty complained to Principal Newell that it was Dragone, as associate principal, who failed to follow through on consequences for music students who were acting out. In one case, Flaherty said she argued that a tough and troubled student who threatened to kill him should be allowed back in his class.
Top administrators, including Dragone, did not return the Weekly’s calls. Principal Newell declined to comment.
In the June 5 notice, Cox cited events from nearly a year earlier, saying Flaherty had defied Principal Newell during the summer of 2008 over the school management’s desire to start a marching band. “On or about July 29, 2008, in response to Mr. Newell’s directives, you threatened to withdraw any commitments made during the 2008-2009 school year to work full-time, perform your duties as a band director, and to initiate a marching band,” Cox wrote, calling Flaherty’s attitude “defiant, unprofessional and unsatisfactory behavior.”
Flaherty tells the Weekly he had no intention of withdrawing from his commitments, but merely wanted the bureaucrats off his back. The music program was getting squeezed because the middle-school “feeder” program had ended, and an administrator replaced the high school’s crucial beginning band classes with guitar classes for a year.
But Flaherty also undoubtedly made enemies in high places by criticizing the way in which Hawthorne High School herds its students — many of them several years behind in reading and math — into a time-wasting “advisory” period each day where no teaching and no curriculum are offered. Striving for continuity for the kids, he also found the ever-changing parade of six or seven principals and associate principals in the last decade unnerving.
“He was committing educational triage, doing what he could do given the circumstances,” Malone says. “He’s been rather successful with what he’s done, but they want more” — the marching band at football games.
Juan Leguizamon, who had shepherded the drum line when a previous bandleader quit midyear, says Flaherty made it work for the kids, if not for the bureaucrats, spending thousands of his own dollars so that poor students could tour with the Wyoming Troopers Drum and Bugle Corps for a broader musical and educational experience.
“Don’s a great guy with a big heart,” Leguizamon says. “There’s not a single kid he taught that would say a bad thing about him; they loved him. He knows how to build a great program, not just a little high school band, which is what they wanted. It’s shitty when you succeed and you get punished for it.”
Leguizamon says administrators were hyperfocused on creating the football marching band as they chipped away at Flaherty’s drum-line program, failing to help kids find a way to take four years of band while also meeting a P.E. requirement. Flaherty insists there were ways to keep the kids in band and still meet the requirements.
Leguizamon argues that Flaherty never objected to a marching band, and had, in fact, patched together bands for football games using members of the drum line and other musicians, working as far in advance as June to create a list of students, their class assignments and their capabilities from beginning to advanced brass and woodwind — a massive student-scheduling effort.
The future of the school’s famous drum line, and of the summertime drum-and-bugle corps, which has now produced six world-championship student performers, is in jeopardy. Leguizamon says he plans on leaving next year after staying, without pay, to help the kids through this season.
Cox, the assistant superintendent, recently told the Weekly he doesn’t know what the award-winning drum line’s fate will be. The drum-and-bugle corps is in negotiations with host schools to move as far south as San Diego, Flaherty says. And despite all the upheaval, there was no marching band this fall while Hawthorne’s football team racked up another losing season.
Leguizamon says a new band director is trying hard against enormous odds. “It’s likely to fall apart, and that’s what they want — because it costs money.”
William Calvario still vividly remembers the summer several years ago that the music teacher who changed his life drove him and a group of other students to Casper, Wyoming, so they could march for three months with the Troopers Drum & Bugle Corps — a world-class unit sometimes called “America’s Corps” because of its U.S. Cavalry–style uniforms.
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