McElroy puts away conductor's baton
BARBARA MCELROY will retire after 36 years of teaching music at Sonoma Valley High School.
Sonoma Valley High School will lose one of its most popular teachers at the end of this year. Music teacher Barbara McElroy will put down her conductor's baton and retire after 36 years at the school.
"It's kind of bittersweet," said the teacher who was named both Teacher of the Year and Director of the Year.
Looking around her band room, where trophies and awards are scattered among myriad instruments and images of jazz legends on the walls, it is obvious the influence McElroy has had at the school. She proudly displays the photos of every band and every choir group she has ever conducted, and the room is littered with love notes from former students. One can literally count the faces of the students she has touched over her decades of teaching.
"You can just see the big impact she has had on the music community by walking into her room," said Louann Carlomagno, superintendent of the Sonoma Valley Unified School District. "Barbara gives that gift of music to so many students and we're going to miss her."
McElroy began her career in Sonoma just a year after she obtained her master's in music from Chico State University in 1975. She came at a time when the music program was flourishing, and she kept the momentum that former teacher Richard Schneider had created. That all changed in 1978 when Proposition 13 passed, severely impacting funding to public schools by limiting property taxes.
"The district cut all of the music except for the band," McElroy said.
With the support of the community, McElroy was able to slowly rebuild the program, integrating a concert choir, concert and marching band, jazz band, madrigals singers and the Jazzberries show choir. She understood that music education was an important component in a child's development, and worked hard to create a variety of opportunities for students to participate in.
"It rounds out the student, they need some outlet for their creativity ... When you're playing music, the brain lights up in all sorts of different ways," she said. "I know it keeps some students in school, quite frankly. They come in here and they have a family."
When the No Child Left Behind Act passed in 2002, McElroy saw another hit to music education as schools scrambled to put added emphasis on passing the standardized tests, which pulled funding away from arts education. Again, it looked like the music department would land on the chopping block.
That's about the time Sonoma Jazz Plus stepped in. From buying and fixing band instruments to purchasing risers for the choir, the nonprofit became the guardian angel of the music department, keeping the program alive and thriving. McElroy said that aside from her salary, the school district gave the music department just $300 for the 2010-11 school year. The rest of the necessary funding came from Jazz Plus and fundraisers thrown by the students.
"Without (Jazz Plus) we'd be in a world of hurt," McElroy said.
Carlomagno added, "With the recent cuts in state funding, the community has had to provide more of that support."
With continued support from the nonprofit,
McEroy said she is confident the music department will continue to excel. For now, she is looking forward to spending more time with her horses. As a competitive rider, she has her sights set on earning a National Championship title. She will remain active in the local music scene as associate director of the Sonoma Valley Chorale and director of music at the Church of the Roses in Santa Roses. But, she said, despite her many plans, she will miss her students most of all.
"The goal is to be a positive influence in the students' lives," she said. "Yes, we've won lots of awards, but that's not what's important. It's the relationships we form. We're a team, we're a family."
Carlomagno said the district is already searching for a new director for the music program, but admits there are big shoes to fill. "It's going to be such a challenge to replace (McElroy)," she said. "No one will ever replace her, but we'll find someone who will come in and make the program their own, just like Barbara did."