And the beat goes on


By Linda Dillman
Staff Writer

Photo courtesy of CW Schools
The Winchester Steel Company.

The music is not stopping for Canal Winchester’s steel drum musicians as the youth and adult programs, started in the schools in 1999 by Todd Phillips and Scott Zeuch, transitions to the Canal Winchester Joint Recreation District with hopes of expansion.

A social media post on July 13 by the Winchester Steel Company detailing the program’s demise was followed on July 15 with a post by Canal Winchester Local Schools on social media and their website saying there was confusion in the community about the future of the popular extra-curricular music program.

School district response
“We wanted to clear up inaccurate information that was brought to our attention and provide an update for our community, family, and students,” the district said in an online release. “We are excited to share that the Canal Winchester Steel Drums program will continue as a community recreation opportunity offered by the Canal Winchester Joint Recreation District. CWJRD has been looking for opportunities to expand their recreational programming beyond athletics, and feels this is a perfect opportunity to offer even more to our community.”

According to the district, community members and students can participate, with information shared by CWJRD in the near future. It is the district’s understanding the Canal Winchester steel drums will participate in Labor Day festivities as in the past.

“We look forward to partnering with CWJRD to ensure community members and students can continue participating in the Steel Drum Band,” stated the school district on its website. “The Canal Winchester Steel Drum Band will be able to continue to use our drums and equipment, which are at Canal Winchester High School and have not been moved into storage.”

During a July 17 Canal Winchester Board of Education meeting, former steel band member Konrad Deeg lauded the program, saying the experience provided friendships, further expanded his social skills, and helped evolve his music literacy.

“This combination of building my musical reading skills and building my solo confidence was critical in enabling me to play in a variety of ensembles and also starting to lead and direct other groups in Ohio and Sydney, Australia,” said Deeg. “I urge you to recognize the importance of performing arts extracurriculars and continue programs to empower all students for success.”

Regarding Phillips’ continued participation in the steel band after his retirement at the end of the previous school year, district spokesperson Megan Anthony said Canal Winchester

Schools did not agree or say at any time that he would continue in any capacity related to his former role.

According to Anthony, the district is legally required to prohibit retirees from serving in their previous capacity for two months after retirement.

“Our director of human resources and high school principal made several attempts to contact Mr. Phillips in May and June that were unreturned,” said Anthony. “An email was sent to Mr. Phillips on June 30 that stated he would not continue in any capacity of his former role and then a meeting was held July 12 with the same message. After the school year finished, we started conversations with Mr. Brennan and our band director, Mr. Furniss, about 2023-24 programming, including the steel band.”

Anthony said when inaccurate information began circulating, the district accelerated conversations with the high school music department and determined it would not have the capacity to offer the community steel band this year, especially with the district’s goal to increase participation and access for students to vocal music programs.

“We reached out to CWJRD to see if they would be interested in taking on the steel band program as part of their community recreation programs for adults and students,” said Anthony.

Canal Winchester Schools Superintendent Kiya Hunt said there is work to be done over the next several weeks in order for the band to resume practicing for the upcoming Labor Day parade and festival.

“Things are going to happen quickly,” said Hunt. “It is a very unique program. I don’t think anyone will argue that. The thing we ran into with this being a school activity is that (there are) adult members. There are students that participate in it as well. With Mr. Phillips’ retirement, it does make the offering of it (steel drum band) a little difficult for the schools in the sense of school and adults. There are a lot of things that go into that with adults being in the building with students.”

Hunt said adult volunteers, with whom the district is aware of within school buildings, are subject to background checks. With adult band members, she admitted logistics are more difficult following Phillips’ retirement. She said she talked with the CWJRD about the transition and felt the move made sense for the community.

“The CWJRD is working out the details so it can still be offered and not only continue, but grow,” said Hunt. “We’re very excited about that.”

CWJRD response
CWJRD Board Chairperson Jill Amos said the recreation district wants to encompass more programming than sports and spent the last year building up programming. Amos said the CWJRD needs to be responsible in creating the steel band program and is working putting things together.

“The CWJRD has approved the adult (band) program and is looking at the kids’ program,” said Amos. “Todd (Phillips) is the director of the adult band and we’re looking for potential rehearsal space because we do know they have some events scheduled. We will have access to the Oley Speaks auditorium for performances. The kids band program is a lot bigger than the adult program, so it will take time to get that set up.”

The CWJRD charges a fee for all sports and programming to cover the cost of insurance and operations. The fee for adult band participation is expected to be $25.

Todd Phillips response
Throughout the 2022-23 school year, Phillips said he was in conversations with former high school principal Amy Warren about remaining the steel drum program director beyond retirement in June. Phillips said that at no point was he told there would be any concern about the situation. He said he was led to believe that the program and himself would continue their work in the upcoming school year.

“At the end of June, I was informed that the program was suspended and I would not be a part of its future,” said Phillips. “This led to more conversations with the district, but no change was going to be made. I found out the school was transferring the program to the CWJRD through an online posting. I believe it was on July 14. Over that following weekend, I spoke to Jill Amos and Mayor Mike Ebert about the transfer. They did ask if I was interested in remaining the music director and I agreed to do so.”

A week later, Phillips had a lengthy meeting with Amos and other members of the CWJRD administration.

“We talked about the current program, the goals and how it can fit into the CWJRD’s vision,” said Phillips. “It was a very positive meeting and I’m happy they stepped forward to save the program that affects students, parents and adults from all around our area. I know there are still some questions about how the new management process might change the program and we’re working through all of that. I’ve been very diligent about keeping everyone involved up to date on things.”

Phillips said one of his goals in leaving the classroom was to create a non-profit group that sponsors performing arts activities for the community, including drama, vocal music, instrumental music and dance.

His plans for the Canal Winchester Performing Arts Collective are to function as an independent organization, with the hope of working in collaboration with the school system, World Harvest Prep, the recreation district, and other groups in the community to bring more performing arts to the area.

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