Richmond Hill High School band director Charles Westman announced to the band boosters at Thursday night’s booster meeting that RHHS will not be renewing his contract after this school year.
Several parents and boosters of Westman’s band program rallied at the Hill of Beans on Highway 17 late Friday afternoon to express their disenchantment with the school system’s decision and to send a plea for school officials to reconsider.
Most of the 10 or so supporters at the rally said they believe he is being let go as a direct result of the recent controversy surrounding last year’s proposed trip to Washington, D.C. after the band was invited to perform at the National Anthem Project.
That trip was vetoed by the Bryan County Board of Education based on the advice from BoE attorney Gerald Edenfield stating the potential liability for any school-sanctioned out of state trip is too great.
There was an outpouring of resistance from many in the community following the BoE’s decision. Band supporters who flocked to the Hill of Beans say this is simply another chapter in that saga, and that Westman is being punished for his involvement in it.
"This is retaliation against him (Westman) for standing up for the rights of these kids," said booster member John Cain. "I feel that we have a principal and a superintendent that have forgotten what they’re there to do, and that’s to do what’s best for the kids."
Booster member David Dodson said Westman told the boosters one of the reasons he was told his contract was not being renewed was "the band was not going in the direction that they thought it would. What direction do they want it to go in? What he has accomplished with the band in the short period he’s been here and what we’ve seen happen with the way the kids have taken to him makes a pretty strong statement. They’ve won championships, been offered scholarships, and have received national recognition. So we have a disconnect here."
Booster member Danny Cumbee said there has been a conflict between the school board and the RHHS band program which resulted in boosters, not the school system, having to come up with the funds for new uniforms and other band needs.
"Our goal here is to continue the success of this band program, and the chances are lower of this happening if they pull Westman and bring someone else in,"Cain said.
"Westman gave these kids a vision and they reached their goals," Booster member Kathy Schaudt said. "Whatever personal conflict exists with administration, they need to build a bridge and get over it."
Those in attendance also expressed frustration with the lack of response they are getting from RHHS administration and the BoE.
"I cannot discuss personnel issues," said school superintendent Dr. Sallie Brewer. "I am legally bound in regard to that."
BoE Chairman Eddie Warren is concerned the public perception of the board will be a negative one, but said he is bound by the same legalities.
"It is unfortunate in this incident that personnel can not be discussed with the public, but it is so," said Warren. "Besides that, this is not a board issue, it is an administrative one. I realize that we have a strong viable band program at Richmond Hill High School, and I hope that we can retain that through all this."