Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966


Turnover chronic for music program


How can the Haines School build longevity in its music program?

The question has resurfaced since the June 28 resignation of Kristina Mulready, who led the district’s music program three years. Mulready is the fifth teacher to work as music teacher since Bob Krebs left the job in 2002. Krebs served in the job five years.

School district leaders and former teachers say longevity in the position is important for recruiting students and building participation in band and choir groups.

Krebs, a local landowner, said he built the high school band from 15 students to about 40, and grew the choir to about 70 students, but it took years. He said he spent about $2,000 per year out of his pocket on the program, mostly for sheet music.

Music is important and deserves full support of the district, Krebs said in a recent interview. Not only is it an anchor for keeping students interested in school, studies have found music promotes brain development and study of it helps students learn other subjects, including languages, he said.

“People can’t go anywhere without expecting to hear music, but when it comes to teaching it, we don’t want to pay for it,” Krebs said.

For Haines Borough School District Superintendent Michael Byer, keeping a music teacher is vexing.

“When Kristina was hired, the first thing I said to her is ‘What do you need? Let’s get this program rolling. It needs some TLC,’” Byer said this week. “I’d like to find a person who could be here for a long period of time to build a program. We want somebody who makes it attractive to kids. It’s not mandatory, so it’s got to be compelling.”

Byer said the district’s efforts have included moving band to class periods that don’t conflict with required classes, and making sure the music teacher has a manageable load. “We try to make sure the instruments are kept up and repaired and the teacher has the music they need. Certainly a good music program is a vital part of our school. I’d like to see it more like our art program in terms of what we put out (but) it’s been one of those things.”

Byer said resignations that come during the summer don’t allow much time for the district to recruit candidates. Some prospects he contacted after Mulready’s resignation already had committed to other districts, he said.

Mulready did not give a reason for her departure in her resignation letter to the district and in brief comment this week said she felt she had good support from the school for the program.

“Someone who’s married might do better than a single person. There’s more opportunities to do things as a family in Haines than there is as a single person,” she said.

Mulready grew up in Juneau and previously lived in Fairbanks, where she has since found work teaching music in a school.

Computer teacher Sam McPhetres, who helped bring Mulready to Haines, said the job as the district’s lone, full-time music teacher is a tough one. McPhetres has worked in Haines 17 years.

“In other districts, you have people to mentor you. You have mentoring programs for new teachers. Here, you’re the only music teacher. When you have a tough day, you talk to someone over the phone,” he said.

Plus, the nature of the music job makes it particularly challenging , McPhetres said. “Anyone who stands in front of a fifth-grade band deserves a medal.” McPhetres also said that in every teaching job it takes time to build trust and respect of students.

The district has hired Kristy Totten to teach music this year. Totten has previously taught at the International School in Kenya and as an itinerant music teacher on Prince of Wales Island. Totten and other new teachers will be featured in next week’s CVN.