Monday, July 30, 2012

Chim Chim Cheroo, Tuacahn, The Finale

Note: I had to split this one! So in order to understand it, please read "WHO AM I?" first.

"Gather the most talented kids in the state and produce a summer stock program for kids. We hope that by bringing those kinds of kids here, they will stay. Make it happen."

Another biggie! Woot!

In my interviews, Hyrum mentioned that they wanted to create a summer youth program that would combine the most talented kids from the state into a "high school summer stock" show produced by Tuacahn and Tuacahn High. But I never heard of it again until my principal laid the script on my desk one day and said "I was going to do this myself, but I think I'd rather take the summer off." I nearly choked on my tongue. But I remained calm. "Do you know the show?" he said. Yes. I knew it well. I had just directed it at Lehi the year before.

So because I had so little to do, I had the time to create a summer arts program that worked right out of the gate. Thanks to Tuacahn's executive team, my sister Penny and all the families that hosted cast members for the summer, we were able to create a magical production that people still talk about to this day. Matt Clegg, who played my perfect ValJean, and 30 other beautiful kids that I borrowed from all over the state made it possible for Tuacahn to see what Hyrum had seen. In one fell swoop I had put down roots. I'm so grateful.

Tuacahn's Summer Theatre Institute started changing the perception of the school from a place to drop off the drop-outs, to something very seriously academic and artistic. Those 30 kids returned to their schools and started talking about "awesome Tuacahn." Step one. Get the word out.

Step two? Be awesome. Teach superior skills. It's not about the bells and whistles. It's about teaching kids to bring those characters, dances, music up from their soul and to communicate with the audience. Nobody knows that six months ago a kid could not hit pitch, that a canvas has been used six times or that the dance floor is 25% gaff tape. Because the arts are so teacher-driven, make sure you have teachers that are committed to rigor and have pride in what they do and what the public will S.E.E. THEN you will have a superior arts school. As teachers left, we made sure to hire those kinds of teachers and they are still there.

I had an idea to give the school more focus and thanks to another teacher named Mr. Webb, we redesigned the school's graduation requirements to include 6 arts-based academies. Anyone could come to school at Tuacahn, but we were best able to serve young artists. We were no longer the school trying to get kids, any kids, to fill seats. We were the teenage school trying to get the RIGHT kids.

Forget about your humble theatre space. It was called Tuacahn High School for the Performing Arts, which to me, meant that we had to give the public a product that was superior to anything a student could get anywhere else. But in the beginning, the theatre didn't even have a working light to speak of. Everything was borrowed from The Center after their season was over. Once you plugged a light in that had been outside for six months, all you could think about was the permeating smell of smoking bugs. Thanks to The Institute, we now needed to light three shows at once and both entities gave money to make this happen. Eventually, we could do just about anything in that space.

So after seven and a half years, what did I get out of it?

Andy. I got Andy out of it. I was a 40 year-old spinster when I found myself sitting on my thumbs with nothing to do after school. I finally had time to feel human again. We got married almost exactly 1 year after I started working at Tuacahn. That NEVER would have happened if I hadn't listened to The Spirit and uprooted my life when I did. How many times do I have to say it people? GOD. He knows all. Trust Him.

Why did we leave?

I couldn't make everyone happy. It's lame I know, but after seven years of putting in a 14-hour day (and getting paid for 8 of it) when you are criticized for not doing enough, it hurts so much.

Some will argue that I wasn't great at being an administrator. I don't have formal education in that area, that's for sure. I have a couple of letters in my file that prove I went about change in the wrong way, but at least I was trying to make change. Hyrum always says, if you aren't making someone mad, you aren't doing enough. I know what he means now. I made people mad sometimes because I was standing up for kids, and that's the truth.

Especially after the economy crashed. The school was exploding with kids. We were fighting over our only performance space. We needed more teachers too, just like EVERY school does. In the theatre academies we had doubled the number of performances we offered, and were casting twice as many kids to get them all in at least one show. But that meant we were living at the school. I hadn't had a raise in seven years, Andy in six, but our work load had doubled with no end in sight.

Back in 2005, when classes were small, the pay cut was worth it. To my understanding, Charter school teachers do not make as much money as regular school district teachers, by and large it's because their classes are smaller. Then we started getting a name for ourselves and people were moving to St. George just to get their kids into the school. When their kids didn't get cast in shows, we were dealing with that disappointment more and more. I was watching Andy implode. Then there was a faculty meeting where he asked if anyone was concerned that we were no longer true to our mission statement of having smaller class sizes and someone said, someone that we love and respect, "would you rather have a job or meet the mission statement?"

I know he was under so much pressure but that little wedge set itself in the back of my neck and eventually split me in half. If the Lord is going to insist that I still raise other people's kids, I need to feel like part of a thriving team. Goals, vision and growth are as important to me as air and water. Surely there are other ways to survive without adding more students? I wish I had time to study the answer and give an answer. I just can't add that to my plate. But I've said it before...whoever can solve that problem will win my vote.

I know I told everyone that we were returning to our aging parents who, it turns our are not 39 years- old as we have always thought they were. We need to be closer to them. It's our responsibility but that's only part of the truth.

Here is the very crux of the problem. I have been saving this information for my blog. Please understand:

I was responsible to provide a product that would entice people to bring their kids into our awesome school seeking that awesomeness! Marketing was my responsibility. But once they got into the school I would then have to find them a place in a play or a concert to make them awesome too and that was eating me alive and making teachers and parents mad at me. That conflict of interest made me no longer useful at Tuacahn. There it is.

We leave behind some of the best people on the earth. I'm not kidding. That faculty and staff is filled with enough gems to re-crown the queen. I need to tell Mel, Jana and Heather, specifically, how much I will miss them. I can not think about going back to school without any of them. It nearly kills me.

I wanted it to be the place I would retire. But my particular bucket was empty. They have hired a new guy with a full bucket and he is awesome. I know him well and he'll be a great asset to the school.

What do we want?
When do we want it?
How do we get it?

Strong, positive, urgent...Tuacahn High!

I love you all! Break many legs!