They’ve collected nearly 300 signatures. They’ve appealed to the Board of Education. Now, Pelham students are looking for answers as to why the chorus teacher that led them to golden distinction is getting fired.
Back in May, the Board of Education shocked students and parents with its unanimous decision to not renew Jennifer Tibbetts’ two-year probationary contract, which officially expires today. Superintendent Dr. Dennis Lauro declined to share the reasons behind his recommendation, but assured students that the music program will continue to thrive. However, without the teacher that taught them foreign pieces and practiced with them during free periods, students aren’t convinced.
“I’m just scared,” remarked Kyra De Tone, a PMHS senior, about losing Ms. Tibbetts. “I don’t want to go back to the chorus in which no one is really doing anything, where no one really cares. I’m just nervous that we’re not going to be pushed as hard as we’ve been pushed.”
But, some suspect that Ms. Tibbetts was let go because of the exact rigorous teaching methods that De Tone appreciates and that she may be better suited to work at a conservatory.
Ms. Tibbetts pulled her pupils out of their comfort zones by teaching them 10-part Italian pieces and exposing them to such varied composers as Samuel Barber, Gwyneth Walker and Eric Whitacre, whom she took students to see perform at Carnegie Hall. Students learned new warm ups to increase their range and met twice a month outside of class for additional practice, not just once a year as they had in the past.
“She wanted to make chorus stop being an ‘easy A,’” De Tone said. “She made it something that people took seriously.”
Tibbetts’ students weren’t the only ones who took the Pelham chorus seriously. Judges at a variety of renowned competitions acknowledged the talent with the awards they doled out.
The Pelham chorus took home the golden distinction award at the New York State Music Association’s Majors this year and last. The women’s chorus, which Tibbetts only first established this year, also got the same honor.
“One of the judges said that we were one of the finest women’s choruses he had ever heard,” De Tone said.
To impress just how much they hope to keep Ms. Tibbetts around, students rallied together at the May 16 Board of Education meeting when the decision to fire her was made. Hiroo Kajita, a junior at PMHS, even returned to the following meeting to petition on her behalf.
Kajita spoke of how Ms. Tibbetts not only helped to improve his singing, but also bolstered his self-esteem in a way that no one else has.
“When Ms. Tibbetts came along, we felt like serious singers,” Kajita remarked. “We were going to be stars.”
But her proponents aren’t just mourning the loss of their teacher, they're also frustrated with the way in which they have been left completely uninformed.
“Can’t you just tell us why our teacher is being fired?,” asked De Tone. “We’re rational people. We don’t just want to blow this steam around for no reason.”