Tri-Village News

Crowd objects to band director's resignation

More than 100 parents, students attend meeting, but board offers no reasons for sudden departure

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Despite the impassioned -- and in some cases, tearful -- pleas of parents and students, Grandview Heights school board members April 15 unanimously approved band director Justin Hennig's resignation.

More than 100 parents and students attended the meeting, many of whom spoke and asked the board to reject Hennig's resignation and give him at least one more year as band director. Supporters also presented the board with petitions signed by more than 200 people.

Hennig, 24, is in his first year as a band director. He previously served as assistant band director for Fairborn City Schools.

Mary Ann Stephens, a parent of fifth- and sixth grade-band members, praised Hennig for being a "positive, encouraging and enthusiastic" teacher who cares about his students.

It's hard to believe that someone who displayed such enthusiasm leading his student musicians at the annual Cake Walk earlier this month would resign just a few days later, she said.

Noting that the board held a closed session during its March meeting to discuss an employee's status, Stephens said the April 9 announcement of Hennig's resignation seemed "unbelievably swift" and "premeditated" by his superiors.

The community deserves an explanation of why Hennig will not return as band director, she said.

ThisWeek Tri-Village News has filed a public-records request with the school district to view material in Hennig's personnel file that relates to his job performance and his resignation. The district indicated its intention to comply with the request and to make copies of the file available for viewing before the end of this week.

High school band student Charlotte Gross said Hennig's departure "will be very devastating for the high school band program.

"There will be a huge drop in band participation," she said.

Gross said she has spoken to students who, like her, aren't sure whether they will return to band next year because they don't want to have to go through a transition to a new band director for the second year in a row.

Hennig helped his students feel more confident about themselves, high school band member Ashley Linville said.

"A big issue at our school is (students) not fitting in," she said. "When we were out on the field, Mr. Hennig told us we all had a spot in the band. He gave us good criticism and lifted us up. That would be lost if he wasn't here.

"A lot of people won't feel like they belong," Linville said.

Brian Milner, a parent of a middle school band student, said his daughter had a "tremendous relationship" with Hennig, who is an enthusiastic motivator of his students.

Undoubtedly, Hennig was given a set of objectives to meet as a first-year teacher, Milner said.

"Was he given any help to meet these objectives?" he asked.

It's worth remembering that many in the community were hesitant to accept Hennig -- or anyone -- after longtime band director Kie Watkins left the district last year, band parent Jeri Milburn said.

Milburn said she, like her daughter and many other students and parents, "fell in love" with Hennig.

"It's clear he doesn't want to leave Grandview. He's upset and so are his students," she said. "If Mr. Hennig was doing something wrong, all these people wouldn't be here.

"I find it hard to believe it was a voluntary decision," Milburn said.

The secrecy behind Hennig's resignation leaves the community with two options to consider, she said.

"We either have to believe he's done something very wrong" and that's being hidden, or it is the board and/or the administration that are in the wrong "and you're hiding that from us," Milburn said.

The most-troubling thing is the divisiveness in the community over this issue, band parent Melanie Luckenbach said.

"This is a community divided about what they want the band to be," she said. "I respect the board we elected and I respect our school administration and the delicacy and responsibility they apply to these types of decisions.

"I would like all of us to restore unity and support whatever decision is made," Luckenbach said.

Kim Sides also said she trusted the school board, whose members likely have information they can't reveal to the public about the decision to accept Hennig's resignation.

"I like Mr. Hennig, but there are bigger things that go into a decision like this," she said.

Sides' message to the dozens of students who attended the meeting was that change happens in life, she said.

"I want you to embrace change. It's scary, but sometimes it makes you a better person," she said.

Superintendent Ed O'Reilly said he spoke with Hennig earlier April 15 and that he confirmed his intention to resign.

"He explained his reasons (for resigning) and his desire for those reasons to remain private," O'Reilly said.

"I understood and accepted" Hennig's rationale for his decision to resign, O'Reilly said.

Before its vote April 15, the board went into a closed session.

When members returned, they voted unanimously to accept Hennig's resignation.

The vote was being made "with reluctance," board member Adam Miller said.

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