The Davenport Central High School band has a 136-year history, and Alexander Wilga is only the school’s eighth head director. “I am incredibly proud and very humbled that I get to work where I do,” he says. “The band program means so much to the community, and we do everything we can to give back to our area and make those who came before us proud. I know that I am just a placeholder, and my job is to make sure the program is in better shape when I am done than when I started.”
One way Wilga is doing this is by growing band enrollment to more than 240 students. “Our biggest recruiting success has been fostering a strong relationship with our junior high band program,” he says. “We participate in our 7th- and 8th-grade band rehearsals, we invite the junior high concert bands and jazz bands to share concerts with the high school, we share a halftime performance during the marching season, and we share our first public performance of the year called the Ice Cream Social, which happens on the third day of school.”
Wilga also focuses on retaining high school students by making sure that every student has a voice in the direction of the program and by providing more participation options for students. “We require every band student to be in concert band but from there they can choose to be in marching band, jazz band, color guard, winter guard, show choir band, brass choir, woodwind choir, percussion ensemble, steel drum band, as well as a whole host of solo and ensemble opportunities,” Wilga says.
The biggest change that positively affected enrollment numbers was that the financial burden of band participation was taken away from Davenport Central families. “We are a 75% free and reduced lunch district, so asking families to spend money to rent or purchase an instrument can put music education out of reach for many of our students,” Wilga explains.
He was involved in coordinating a proposal that secured guaranteed funding for music programs across the district. “I can be very persistent when I have to be,” Wilga admits. “I was very fortunate to have an amazing associate superintendent who knew how important the arts are to our students and our community. It was also wonderful — and risky! — to stand as a united district music department and tell the school board that we would no longer be able to provide music programs if there wasn’t going to be district funding.” Thankfully, the gamble paid off.
Wilga goes on to say, “I am always pushing for my students to have every experience that is possible through band. I don’t want them to worry about quality instruments, quality facilities, adequate funding or the other administrative things that come with a large program. I don’t want students to have a single roadblock so that they are free to become the best versions of themselves that they can possibly be.”
A final note from Wilga: “The machine that slices bread was invented in Davenport, so you are all welcome!”