Band Director taking Sapulpa Public Schools to places they haven’t been in a long time
The Sapulpa High School Band has had no shortage of successes this year. If you weren’t following for the last several years, it might seem as though they’ve become something of an overnight success.
Of course Band Director Craig Amendt knows that’s simply not true. It’s taken years of hard work and dedication from him, his staff and of course the students. Years later, it all seems to be paying off.
In celebration of an especially great year, we caught up with him to ask about his journey and how his experience has been.
When did you start at Sapulpa High School?
I began teaching in Sapulpa in July, 2008. Upon arrival, I had to hire an entirely new band staff. The school had decreased the band staff by a half position.
How would you describe the state of the band when you began? What was the journey like, going from such a small band that you had to combine 7th-8th grade, to now having every single band take hope best in sight awards this year?
The band program was at a low point when I started at Sapulpa due to decreased enrollment. The high school band (9-12) only had 86 students. During that first year we encouraged past band members to return to band. Two years later, we had eighth grade students participate in marching band so the band wouldn’t be as small. Fortunately, we no longer have bring up eighth grade students to bolster numbers. During the first year, 7th grade students were bused to the Junior High to join our 8th grade band students so we had enough kids to form a band. (We only had 12 8th grade students that first year, but will have 45next year) Jazz band was bumped to after school and no longer part of the school day. We had jazz band after school for several years and we finally added it back into curriculum during the regular school day this year. In 2016-2017 year we will have have two jazz bands and a jazz combo. We began offering winter guard during the school day in the spring semester. The middle school was on a block schedule in sixth and seventh grade band, and students had band every other day when I took over the program eight years ago. There was a huge difference in ability of band kids who had band every day compared to those who had band every other day. This scheduling nightmare really hurt the band program, and in my opinion was a major reason why the band program had dwindled. Students need to have band every day to be successful. We are fortunate that Sapulpa is no longer on a block schedule.
Besides the great accolades the band has accumulated, have there been any other moments that have stood out to you in your career?
My greatest enjoyment is from hearing from past students. When the students come back and mention what they learned in band and how it has helped them become successful in college and life, that is very rewarding. I have enjoyed having Mr. Mozarko, former Sapulpa Alumnus, come back and teach with Ms. Barnes and I. We strive to teach more than correct notes, rhythms, and musicianship, but hope to have young men and women who leave our program and become responsible members of society who are problem solvers.
It would seem that with taking state, that Sapulpa Band has reached its pinnacle. What’s next? Can you go higher, still?
We will always strive to achieve more. The Tulsa area is one of five areas in the nation that has numerous top-notch groups that receive national recognition. When we participate in competitions, our area bands are also national trend setters. The bar is raised yearly. I am always reminded of, and embrace the excellence that Mr. Brite and Mr. Cole instilled in the Sapulpa Band program for many of years. They are inspirational, not only to their former students but also to me as an educator. I remember playing under the direction of Mr. Brite at the Oklahoma Music Educators Convention when I was in the Wind Symphony at OU. Sapulpa has a long way to go to have the program of the caliber that these past directors had in all areas, but I do feel like we have made a great start. Our top high school band, the wind ensemble, has earned an OSSAA Sweepstakes (superior in marching, concert, and sight reading) for the past three years, our marching band has earned a superior at OSSAA Regional Marching Competition for the past four years, we have earned superior ratings with our jazz bands and jazz combo, our seventh grade band has earned the OSSAA Outstanding Achievement Award (superior in concert and sight reading) six times in the last eight years, and our beginning band has earned a superior rating every year since 2008. We were thrilled that the symphonic band received the OSSAA Sweepstakes award. 1995 was the last time Sapulpa had earned a double sweepstakes. We want to continue to work to maintain the achievements of yesterday, while not losing sight of the opportunities of tomorrow. If we limit ourselves to the success of our past, we will fall short of our full potential.
“The accolades that our band achieves is important, but doesn’t matter to me as much as pushing our students musically and making sure they understand what it is to be committed to each other and our school.”
The accolades that our band achieves is important, but doesn’t matter to me as much as pushing our students musically and making sure they understand what it is to be committed to each other and our school. The bar raises every year with our kids and ourselves professionally. Mr. Mozarko, Ms. Barnes, and myself are better teachers than when we first came here and strive to find new rehearsal techniques and hone our craft to improve our students at Sapulpa. We constantly look for ways to improve our program, our students, and ourselves.
A few of the goals for the SPS Instrumental Education Program
Increased Enrollment. We continue to have a goal to increase our enrollment in band. That has been very challenging. The biggest challenge is the size of our middle school. We typically have 200-250 students in each middle school class, where most smaller 6A schools have enrollment no less than 350 students in each grade. This is due to the three dependent school districts that feed into our high school. It is because of these three schools eventually have students that attend Sapulpa in ninth grade that Sapulpa is a 6A school. We have succeeded in increasing our enrollment through increased retention. We have seen enrollment increase from 245 students in classes throughout the day to over 370 students next year. While we are pleased with our initial growth, we would like to see our enrollment grow closer to 500 students.
Increased Achievement. We would like for all of our ensembles to be top quality groups known for excellence not only in Oklahoma, but also in the region. We would like to continue to improve our jazz program as well as our competitive marching program.
Increased Curricular Offerings. We would love to begin to offer Advanced Placement Music Theory and start a fifth grade band program; however, this will not be possible until we have a larger band staff. In 2008 the band program was comprised of four ensembles/classes: beginning band, a combined 7th and 8th grade band, and one high school band and an applied music class. Our band program now offers a total of ten classes that students can enroll in during the school day: beginning band, 7th grade band, 8th grade band, two high school bands, two jazz bands, and two winter guards and applied music.
Continuing Infusion of Technology. We began using SmartMusic several years ago and look forward to an increased usage of smartmusic throughout our program with the one to one initiative being implemented throughout Sapulpa schools and have been working with Gideon Seaman from HMH to find the best way to utilize O@sis (our new interactive student portal).
We are thankful for the support we have from our parents, school, and community. The last eight years have not been easy and would not have been possible without the citizens of Sapulpa supporting our kids through fundraising efforts and school bonds. Our current band program has less support financially and in band staff than under any previous band director, due to the cuts during 2008 and more recent cuts from the state of Oklahoma. Eight years ago our band boosters raised $3,000 each year. That amount is now $21,000 a year to fill the gaps in our budget. The Edward E. and T. Bartlett Foundation has been instrumental in rebuilding the band program at Sapulpa, contributing a significant amount of money into our band program. I am also thankful for the great team I work with daily. Ms. Barnes has been here with me the entire time had has been dedicated to rebuilding our band program. I am thrilled to have had Mr. Mozarko working with us to continue to improve our program. Mrs. Bishop has been a fantastic addition to our program. I am able to be in the classroom six hours a day because she takes care of many administrative tasks that would keep me from the classroom. I feel the future is bright in Sapulpa and look forward to continuing our quest for excellence.