Scotty Jones, the band director at Oak Park and River Forest High School the past six years, has doubled participation in band, started a 100-plus student marching band from scratch, and headed the school's African-American faculty association. Come June he'll head to Atlanta for a new post at a prestigious private Christian school.
"It's a monumental loss for the school," said Jim Polaski, a band parent and musician. "He is able to engage the kids and get them to believe in themselves and their abilities. He is a leader."
Jones and his family will move to Atlanta over the summer and Jones will begin teaching at Westminster Schools, a combined elementary/high school set on a picturesque college-like campus northwest of the city.
"A lot of things had to line up for me to take this position," including personal and professional details, Jones said. He and his wife particularly liked that they could send their kids to the same school he'll teach at, making getting to soccer games or play performances hassle-free.
The decision to leave Oak Park wasn't made lightly. Breaking the news to students, some he's known for four years, was hard, Jones said.
"He has clearly done an outstanding job with our band program here, as evidenced by" increased participation, said Jason Edgecombe, OPRF assistant superintendent for human resources.
During his tenure, general band participation increased from 152 to 289 this year. The marching band he created now has 109 members. This year the band played at the Peach Bowl.
"While we're sad for us, we recognize that quality people always have opportunities presented," Edgecombe said.
Jones got a call from a friend and former colleague working at Westminster asking if he was interested in a position at the private school. Jones said no, but that he'd take the free trip to Atlanta to look at it and see his friend. He didn't expect it, he said, but everything fell into place.
"If one piece did not line up...it would have been very easy" to not leave, Jones said. "It became a position that was too good to be true. It must be right."
Edgecombe said Jones' presence would also be missed in the area of minority student achievement. Jones served as president of the African-American faculty organization, and Edgecombe estimated that minority participation in bands has increased.
But Jones takes little acclaim for his accomplishments. He ascribes the increase of minority students in music to PING!, which provides instruments to students who can't afford them in District 97.
Building the marching band? Never would have happened if the right group of a dozen kids hadn't shown up at that first day of marching band camp. They were the right kidsâ€""leaders, upper classmen" who got other musicians to come out for the band.
The search for a new band director is underway, with OPRF interviewing candidates this week. Edgecombe hopes to have a selection made before the last day of school June 9.