Opinion: Telling show of support for orchestra director
The fourth floor space used for the school board meeting on Nov. 17 emanated with heat from the crowd of people that had already shuffled in well before the 7 p.m. start time.
Parents brandishing cameras and recording devices were already clustered behind a gaggle of wide-eyed choral members from Thurston Elementary School, who were set to perform first for the school board.
In the midst of the chaos, high school and college students started to stream into the meeting room.
The majority of the students were from Huron High School. Some were alumni, and some were currently enrolled in the Huron music program. Although the board meeting coincided with the dress rehearsal for the orchestra members, these students still chose to carpool over before the rehearsal. The main cause provoking this student mobilization was the dispute over Huron orchestra teacher Chris Mark, who is on leave from the school district pending an investigation into his conduct.
There wasn't enough space to seat everybody, so 30 or so students amassed in the hallway outside of the room. Some 85 parents, students and alumni attended the board meeting to support Mark.
Before the meeting was officially called to order, the mother of a current orchestra student started collecting signatures of those who want Mark restored to his position.
A group of students and parents in the audience of the November 17 school board meeting. | Photo by Jing Chai.
Many supporters spoke during the section of the board meeting dedicated to public commentary. Common themes coursed through the majority of the speeches. Terms such as “selfless” and “changed my life” surfaced multiple times. The list of speakers ranged from a chemistry major at the University of Michigan to the student president of the Huron orchestras. Several parents also spoke about the personal ties they felt Mark established with their students.
Silas Bush, a former student, was one of the speakers advocating Mark’s position. He said he frequently praises Mark and the rest of the orchestra program to his current school orchestra in Colorado. He, like many of the speakers on Wednesday, said Mark was the one who inspired him to pursue music despite a rigorous high school academic workload. Silas revealed his intention to pursue a doctorate in music education later on, as a result of Mark’s influence on him.
Former Huron Orchestra alumni speaking about Chris Mark during the school board meeting. | Photo by Jing Chai.
One of the most profound speeches was delivered by the mother of current student Jeffrey Pan. She began her speech by noting the fact that her son’s transition from the smaller private school Greenhills to Huron was successful largely due to the excitement he felt for the orchestra class directed by Mark. Pan was amazed at the fact that her son felt so connected to orchestra and to Mark. She related marveling at her son with disbelief, “You can find your anchor in a school as large as Huron”.
The real clincher in the speech was when Pan compared her own experiences as an educator against the scope of the impact Mark has on his students and the community. She said, “As an educator, I only dream about a fraction of my students doing something like this for me." She remarked upon the sheer presence in numbers of students and parents who attended the meeting for Mark. As Pan’s voice choked up, she induced several people around the room to shed some tears.
It is almost mind-boggling to see the tidal wave of public buttressing Mark still receives. According to the Facebook page created to support Mark, many alumni attending out-of-state schools also showed support for him by posting messages via the social networking site or passing the notice to other Huron Orchestra Program alumni.
As of now, Mark’s standing position as a staff member in the Ann Arbor Public Schools is still unknown. However, one thing seems to remain consistent: wherever Chris Mark goes, a loyal crowd of students, parents, and members of the community seem to follow.