As student musicians start checking into Tullahoma High School this month for band camp, a new face will be greeting the members of the 2017-2018 THS Marching Band.
THS staff and Director of Bands Justin Scott have welcomed Lisa Burden into the Tullahoma Band family as the new assistant director for the program, according to school officials.
Burden comes to Tullahoma following a decade at the Knox County School System in East Tennessee with the Knoxville Central High School Bobcats.
Having moved into town less than two weeks ago, Burden said everything she’s experienced of Tullahoma so far has only increased her love of the area.
“Just the fact that people that I’d never met before would be willing to just help out and welcome someone to the community, that’s just really good evidence of what Tullahoma is,” she said.
Between having her new colleagues help her move in, having some “band moms” bring her some treats last weekend and the “incredible” reception the band program held for her Monday night, Burden has been on the receiving end of Tullahoma’s finest welcome wagon.
“It is awesome,” she said. “I am speechless.”
Already, Burden said, she feels like a full-fledged member of the Tullahoma Band family.
“I don’t feel like I’m a stranger here. Everyone has just been generous, kind and thoughtful. It feels awesome. I don’t think I have enough great words to say about it,” she said.
Burden also had the chance to meet with the most heralded former directors of the Tullahoma Band program, Stephen and Marion Coleman.
“I got to meet them, and they welcomed me like I had already known them for years,” she said.
“Their reputation certainly precedes them, but I’m so glad I will get to know them better and get to learn from them.”
Joining the fray
Moving three hours and nearly 200 miles away from her home wasn’t easy, though becoming part of the tradition of excellence that is the Tullahoma Band program makes the journey worth it for Burden.
“Tullahoma’s reputation precedes it,” she said.
“The opportunity to work with these kids, to work with these directors, to learn from the community was really thought-provoking — thought-provoking enough to apply — so I came a day early just to kind of check things out and I just fell in love,” she added.
“This is a great community and it’s a great program, and it’s definitely worth the change to get to experience it.
Burden said she is excited to jump into the frenetic pace of the Tullahoma Band with two feet, and is similarly excited to get to learn from the A-team of leaders the band program has assembled over the years, even those not directly assisting with the band.
“Greg (English), even though he is an assistant principal now, has a wealth of knowledge and is incredibly well respected,” she said.
“It’ll be great to work (with) and learn from him.”
She also said she looked forward to working directly with Scott, Atticus Hensley and Doug Clark as her colleagues.
“I’m just excited to be a part of it.
Change in scenery
Obviously, things are different here in Tullahoma, where there is only one high school.
The transition in scale has been a great one so far for Burden, however.
“So far it’s been awesome. I feel like when you have a smaller school system that there is more opportunity to look at each student a little bit closer, each program a little bit closer,” she said.
Knox County Schools are over 10 times larger than Tullahoma in terms of the number of schools in the system.
When there are that many students in that many schools, she said, it’s more difficult to give students the individual attention that would help them succeed.
“There were 84 schools in Knox County,” said Burden.
“There were 13, maybe 14 high schools, so it’s a little bit harder to look at each individual or to look at each individual program (there), so there’s a lot more personal attention (here).”
That personal attention given isn’t just at the educational level, said Burden.
For example, she said, when she had her internet connection installed through Tullahoma Utility Authority’s LightTube service, she knew the customer service would be above and beyond, “because it’s local.”
In contrast, she said, perhaps getting internet service from a larger corporation such as Comcast or AT&T might not lend her the same level of customer service, since those companies operate so remotely.
“I feel like in some ways that translates to what I’m doing in a smaller school system,” she said.
Scott backed her up, saying that in such a small community like Tullahoma, more personal attention to each and every individual can be given.
“Here, you’re able to focus more on the individual needs of the student,” he said.
“You’re not bombarded with the larger system aspects, such as number of students, number of schools, paperwork, all that kind of stuff, so that’s what makes Tullahoma great.”
“I think there’s kind of a machine aspect when you’re in a larger school,” Burden said.
“For example, out of however many band programs in Knox County, you can have uniqueness, but there has to a consistency so that everyone feels like they’re being treated fairly. Here it’s, ‘What’s the best need for the band program? What’s the best need for the ROTC? What’s the best need for the football program?’ It’s just more personalized, and that’s really awesome, and it’s really welcome to me.”
Tradition of excellence
When it comes to the size of the band program at THS, Burden said it speaks to the kind of community that is Tullahoma, as well as the excellence in past leadership of the program.
“The size of this program is attributed completely to what the Colemans started with all the way to what Justin is doing now,” she said.
“It is hand-in-hand with the amazing directors that have been here in the past, along with the parents that raise the kids who go through here, along with the school.”
Burden said when she notified her former superintendent that she was taking the Tullahoma position, he lauded the superb academic record of the Tullahoma City Schools system.
That academic excellence led her to have no doubts as to the success of the band program.
“There’s no mistake that you’re going to have a band program that excels in such a school,” she said.
“It’s all about how the directors, the parents, the school and the community work together and make it work, and this is a prefect formula.”
Additionally, she said, she’s already experience a level of mutual respect from the band students that she hasn’t seen before.
“The kids are phenomenal,” she said.
“Most places, kids don’t look you straight in the eye and shake your hand with a firm handshake and are clearly able to address you.”
On Monday night, however, she said she had a seventh-grader greet her with an air of decorum that many adults lack.
“I had a seventh-grader on Monday that stood up, shook my hand (and) looked me square in the eye. Those manners certainly don’t happen everywhere,” she said.
“The kids I taught are amazing and fantastic, but this is a little bit different. (They’re) some of the most well-spoken, fun-loving, energetic kids that just rock at what they do in the band program,” said Burden.
Even with what little she’s seen and experience in Tullahoma, Burden said she can already tell that making this move was the right one.
“I’ve only been here a week and two days, but I can already tell it would have been sad if I hadn’t been able to do this,” she said.
Burden replaces Martin McFarlane, former co-director of bands, who resigned in May following his arrest on drug charges.
Erin McCullough may be reached by email at email@example.com.