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Don Stinson

Director of Bands
Joliet Central High School
Joliet, Illinois

Don Stinson proves that you can go home again. Stinson is the director of bands at the high school he attended — Joliet Central High School. “I’ve thought about teaching at Joliet Central since I was 14,” he said. “Being only the fifth director in the program’s 110-year history is very daunting, but the students continue to rise to the challenge of honoring our band’s history and innovating for the next generation.”

The school’s demographics have changed since Stinson was a student there 20 years ago. It now serves a 75% low-income area with high mobility. “There may not be as much money in our population as there used to be, but we turn negatives into positives,” said Stinson, who is proud or the diversity and accomplishments of his ensembles.

Stinson has created more music-making opportunities at Joliet Central, including a second jazz ensemble, a guest artist series, a jazz lab experience and an introduction to band class. He also founded and directed the Joliet Young Musicians Mentor Band, a two-week summer program. “I ‘borrowed’ the idea of the mentor band from another school and tweaked it. By the end of the program, junior high students receive some musical instruction and our high schoolers experience some authentic leadership opportunities,” Stinson said.

On top of all of his teaching responsibilities, Stinson has a book, “Teaching Music to Students from Underserved Backgrounds,” coming out. The three key points in Stinson’s book are: 1) Money doesn’t solve all of our problems in education, effective and committed teachers are the key; 2) working to identify and combat implicit bias can help teachers help students and communities; 3) some students from low-income areas may not have the time or place to practice or focus on music outside of school; therefore, we must take the job of structuring our class time with rigor and flow seriously.

Read about how Stinson instituted a “practice-not-required” strategy at Joliet Central High School