Engage Parents as Partners
Work with and utilize parents to help your program succeed. Bring them into the fold, give them ownership and allow relationships to thrive.
As a drum major at the Crossmen, I remember talking to Fred Morrison about the nuts and bolts of running the organization. He was in his first year as executive director of the Crossmen after serving as the president of the Ronald Reagan Band Parent Association and had invested a lot of time and money into the success of the organization. Fred taught me early on in my career that “great drum corps and band programs are driven by two things: people and money.”
I have never forgotten this lesson, and it has guided me as I built relationships and fundraised for the organizations that I have been a part of.
Even though he was the top guy at Crossmen, Fred was always a “band parent” at heart. For Fred and his wife, Maureen, who served as the operations director, working at the Crossmen was a labor of love. As a team, the Morrisons were one of the most significant examples of servant leadership I have ever witnessed. They did whatever they needed to do for the corps to succeed, from managing the bigger-picture operations of the organization to pasting stickers on the side of the box truck and cooking pancakes on the food truck. Their responsibilities also included recruiting great volunteers, drivers, kitchen staff and, of course, donors.
After 15 years working at Claudia Taylor “Lady Bird” Johnson (CTJ) High School in San Antonio and an equal number on a drum corps staff, I have learned a few key points regarding the value and importance of engaging parent and alumni support.
- Delegating is vital — “many hands make light work.”
- A person who feels appreciated will always do more.
- Entrusting others to manage a project builds ownership in the organization.
- Solve problems by harnessing the talent of many smart people with great ideas.
- As a director, be willing to admit you don’t know everything, and someone else may have a better solution to a problem.
- You are never alone — when you engage a team of parents, you share successes and failures.
Click on the links below to find out how the CTJ parent groups developed and grew:
Lessons from Winston Churchill and Ronald Reagan Band Parents
Upon moving to Texas for my student teaching, the Ronald Reagan Band Parent Association totally blew my mind because it handled countless tasks, including meals, uniforms, chaperoning, crew, band banquet, fundraising and so much more. The parents ran the band program like it was a small business. There were committees for everything — spirit, restaurant nights, send-offs and plant sales. I was amazed to learn the amount of money the parent association brought in to support the students.
I also learned that Winston Churchill had a similar organization. In studying the groups, I learned of cases where one family might have three or four kids in the program over a decade or more and moved from one role to another to support the band. Seeing so much love and energy going into supporting the band members was terrific.
At my first football game at Reagan, it was gratifying and exciting to see the parents decked out in black and green screaming for the students on the field at half-time and later carrying those same spirit cheers to BOA contests. The Reagan parents were as much of a spectacle as the band on the field. Beaming with pride, they supported their students, but they also cheered on students in other programs. Reagan was a model of how to generate energy from the stands, and we were fortunate when Claudia Taylor Johnson High was started and split from Reagan, many of the very best parents (and students) from Reagan, including the president of the parent association at the time, moved over to help us start our organization.
A New School and a New Parent Organization
At CTJ, we borrowed an equipment truck from the Crossmen Drum Corps — we appreciated their incredible graciousness — during our first few years. Our Johnson parents set out to create the same committees and teams that the Reagan and Churchill parents had established. We were a well-oiled machine before the school even opened. We had parents contributing countless hours to manage concessions, organize our uniforms, feed the students at band camp, and come together to build our empire.
I will never forget the kindness and love of parents like Tommy and Debbie Rau, who became my second parents/family. They worked tirelessly to help us acquire a band trailer, sell merchandise and build camaraderie in those early years, and they also made sure that I had a place to call home for holidays since my family was more than 2,000 miles away in New Jersey. It was remarkable to have the love and support of individuals I had known for only a short time.
Over time, I learned that the award-winning Marcus High School and Reagan band parents followed this mantra to support the students: “Whatever it takes.” Our CTJ parent organization did everything possible to adopt this attitude early on and has maintained it through the last 15 years. My head spins when I imagine running the Johnson program without the support of our parent organization. It would not be possible.
In 2020 when the world was shutting down because of COVID-19, I will always remember meeting with our logistics parents, Carlos and Gina Kraly, who managed numerous elements of our operations. Partnering with several other parents who were doctors, medical supply folks, nurses and operations managers, we developed a plan to have a marching season that prioritized our students’ physical and mental health. Carlos had managed our equipment trucks, props and logistics for several years, and Gina was one of our operations and events managers. They were both leaders in their companies in the professional world, and they used their talents to support our students and parents.
Thanks to our parent organization and the dedication of our teaching staff, we had nearly 250 students in-person for marching band by the time the band took the field in December 2020 and won the UIL 6A State Marching Championship.
At a time when there was so much darkness, CTJ’s parents and students came together to chart a pathway forward. Doing so required trust, communication and mutual faith in one another. We got the job done. The 2020 marching season collaboration is one of the most outstanding examples of doing “whatever it takes” that I have ever been a part of.
Lessons from the Inspire Arts & Music Board
The Inspire Arts & Music board of directors is the support network of the Boston Crusaders. Modeled after the Make-a-Wish Foundation, the Inspire board brings together alumni, performing art lovers, and professionals to help raise awareness and funds for the Boston Crusaders.
Some of the board’s projects included:
- Purchase and maintenance of the equipment trailer.
- Funding additions to the staff.
- Securing corps offices and rehearsal space facilities.
- Ensuring the corps had a solid financial footing.
Many drum corps fall into disarray because of revenue issues. Boston’s board has helped the organization weather significant financial crises, including COVID. Bringing together many strong personalities and taking feedback, criticism and questions takes humility and talent to rally the troops around a central vision. I have been so inspired and impressed by the Inspire board’s ability to build consensus around the corps’ most pressing issues.
Early priorities included infrastructure, such as great trucks, great buses, great equipment. The next priorities included uniform and equipment sponsorships. Once these pieces were in place, the board secured the best teaching staff and administrators they could find. Then, they trusted those instructors and teachers to do their jobs and provided them with the resources needed to be successful. There was, of course, give and take, such as metrics, goals and incentives. The board provided fantastic oversight in the early days, but as the corps’ leadership became more solid, the board maintained its focus on fundraising and community involvement.
Spending time around this organization as a member of the teaching staff, and seeing the positive impact on the corps, all I could think about was how to create a team like the Inspire board at CTJ. Our booster organization was pretty tapped, managing chaperones, meals, uniforms, props, banquets, concessions and many of the other day-to-day operations. It left little time or energy for corporate fundraising, sponsorships or more significant revenue-generating events. I knew we needed to grow our support base. Who better to do this than our alums?
Lessons from the Bands of Wando Foundation
In October 2018, I traveled to Wando, South Carolina, to judge the hometown band contest. A cheery driver named Don Johnson picked up another adjudicator and me from the airport. During the drive to our hotel, I learned that Don was a dedicated band parent and had been involved in the band program at Wando for many years.
As the weekend progressed, I learned more about Don’s extraordinary commitment and investment in the band because he said that his children benefited tremendously through membership in the Wando band.
On top of being a dedicated band parent, Don was a leading spinal surgeon in South Carolina, and he was positioned to rally the community to support the organization. He envisioned a support system for the Wando Band that could engage alums and other stakeholders to raise monies for the campus and the middle school programs. He was wholly committed to keeping band costs down and filling in the gaps in funding at the district level to enable Wando to remain competitive nationally. He also extended support to the middle school feeders that required additional funding for equipment or travel.
Don mentored several of our alumni band parents in creating what is now known as The Bands of Claudia Taylor Johnson Foundation. He guided our team on building relationships between two 501(c)3 organizations, a booster organization and a foundation. There are some critical differences between the two. The main difference is that our band parent association (BPA) focuses primarily on the day-to-day operations of running the program, while the foundation keeps alums engaged and involved and raises money.
We have many great band parents who graduate from the CTJ program but still want to contribute time and energy to the students. The foundation provides them with the opportunity to do this. The foundation also actively engages with alumni to provide updates on happenings in the program and share major milestones from our alums, such as college graduations, weddings and childbirth announcements.
Watching the involvement with our current students and alums has been remarkable. For CTJ’s 10th anniversary, when the band went down on the field to perform at half time, they looked up into the band section in the stands and saw that it was full of our band alums cheering them on. That weekend, which we call the 10th anniversary alumni weekend, saw hundreds of students and parents return to celebrate the program and all its success.
The Bands of Claudia Taylor Johnson Foundation
In 2015, Ric and Jeannette Coons met with me at 54th Street Grill in North San Antonio to discuss how we could mobilize our alumni base and engage them to raise money and support the band program. At the time, our booster president Brian Kickhoefer and vice president Martin Bohanan were responsible for raising funds for our clinicians, trips to nationals and equipment purchases. We agreed to meet monthly for a gathering that we called “the meeting of the minds.” The Coons, Bohanan and Kickhoefer families were dedicated band parents. They were also visionary leaders at their businesses. I learned so much from this team each month about budgeting, outreach, grant writing, organizational management and dynamics. Within a few short years, modeled after the Inspire Arts & Music board, we created a “board of development” as part of the CTJBPA. As part of the BPA by-laws, this arm of the BPA focused explicitly on increasing donor involvement for five key points:
- Have a $20,000 reserve for emergencies when you need CASH now. What happens when the mixer explodes on the day of a contest, the trailer goes under a low bridge and destroys the top or there is a fire in the tuba room that destroys instruments? Sometimes you can’t wait for insurance to kick in, and this reserve was our “safety net.” We also knew we could borrow against it in leaner times rather than put things on a credit card.
- Build a scholarship fund for need-based and merit scholarships. Kick in cash for student band fees, private lessons or special summer camps.
- Engage alumni students and parents through events, fundraisers and socials.
- Engage our middle school parents earlier to get them hooked and learn about the role of an active band parent.
- Ensure that as directors and boards shifted, the monies would not be spent recklessly. We designed the board of development to support CTJ over the long term and through staff or administrative changes.
In 2020, we officially separated the two organizations and created a separate 501(c)3, The Bands of Claudia Taylor Johnson Foundation. We were blessed to add JC and Amanda Weber, two alumni parents, and the current CTJBPA president, Michelle Garnica, to our executive board. We have a diverse team with parents spanning all 15 years of CTJ’s existence. The organization has grown to include alumni students and other parents serving in publicity, communication, website, social media and event roles. And, the organization has given thousands of dollars over the last three years to the Johnson, Tejeda Middle School and “Tex” Hill Middle School bands.
Over the years, we have partnered with CTJBPA and Foundation to run the Bands of America San Antonio Super Regional, one of the largest Music for All contests in the United States, with anywhere from 65 to 90 bands performing at the Alamodome in November over two days. The operation is massive and takes hundreds of volunteers. By engaging our alums, we’ve allowed our current parents to enjoy seeing their students perform while still running a terrific operation. Our Foundation has partnered with us to manage our march-a-thon, UIL contests and several other events.
You’re All on the Same Team
See your parents for who they truly are: professionals.
- Allow them to be a part of the journey. They want to help. There will be disagreements and moments of discomfort, but it is worth navigating those challenges to create an excellent experience for your band members.
- Create a parent “talent and interest” sheet. At the beginning of the year, consider asking parents to fill out a form that gauges not only the committees they’re interested in serving on, but also what talents they have. Carpentry, welding, sewing, physical conditioning, nutrition, graphic arts, photography, social media, videography, engineering, driving — there are so many trade skills that benefit the band program. If you can find a way to harness the collective talents and energy of your parents, your students will benefit and your program will flourish.
On the morning of each contest day, our current booster president texts me, “It’s a great day to have a great day.” Her positive energy was such a boost for me during my most anxious moments leading the kids. Many parents along my journey have lifted my spirits, offered a shoulder to cry on, provided advice, and told me what I needed to hear even when I didn’t want to hear it but needed to hear it. Their love and energy for our students and teaching staff have been sustaining, and I hope it serves as a pathway for others to foster these wonderful relationships within your community.