Ja­son Smith is Grammy semi­fi­nal­ist

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - DUANE M. FORD news@cov­news.com

At the be­gin­ning of the 2015-2016 school year Francene Break­field, head coun­selor at New­ton High School, ap­proached band in­struc­tor Ja­son Smith with a few ques­tions. When he asked why she was ask­ing, Break­field said she was nom­i­nat­ing him for an award. He had no idea which award.

In April he found out he had been se­lected as a quar­ter­fi­nal­ist for the 2017 Grammy Mu­sic Ed­u­ca­tor Award. Smith fol­lowed up by sub­mit­ting a video and es­say ma­te­ri­als. The Record­ing Academy and the Grammy Foun­da­tion have pre­sented a Grammy award to a mu­sic ed­u­ca­tor for the past three years.

Last week, Smith was in the band room at New­ton High School when he re­ceived a phone call from an un­known num­ber. He usu­ally does not an­swer such calls while at work but de­cided to take that one. It was a woman from the Grammy Foun­da­tion call­ing to in­form him that he had been named a semi­fi­nal­ist. Smith, who was re­cently named the New­ton County School Sys­tem (NCSS) Teacher of the Year, said, “My mouth just dropped. I did not think my ma­te­ri­als were any­thing spe­cial.” Smith may be one of the few who was sur­prised. “I am not sur­prised he was se­lected,” said Hezekiah Rodgers, a for­mer stu­dent of Smith’s and 2016 New­ton High grad­u­ate. “The guy works harder than most peo­ple I know. Around New­ton County mas­ter­ing a craft like mu­sic is not al­ways a high pri­or­ity. He pushed us all.”

Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent Grammy Foun­da­tion press re­lease, the pur­pose of the Mu­sic Ed­u­ca­tor Award is to rec­og­nize kinder­garten through col­lege teach­ers

who have “made a sig­nif­i­cant and last­ing con­tri­bu­tion to the field of mu­sic ed­u­ca­tion and who demon­strate a com­mit­ment to the broader cause of main­tain­ing mu­sic ed­u­ca­tion in schools.” The award is open to U.S. mu­sic teach­ers and any­one may nom­i­nate a teacher.

This year, the Grammy Foun­da­tion re­ceived 3,300 nom­i­na­tions and named 290 quar­ter­fi­nal­ists.

“I saw an ad in a mag­a­zine about two years ago about the record­ing academy hon­or­ing mu­sic teach­ers and im­me­di­ately thought about nom­i­nat­ing Mr. Smith, but I had missed the dead­line for sub­mis­sion,” Break­field said. “I watched the Grammy Awards ear­lier this year and when they rec­og­nized the mu­sic ed­u­ca­tor, I knew I had to nom­i­nate him this year so I went on­line and searched for the ap­pli­ca­tion and put the dead­line date on my cal­en­dar.”

Break­field added, “As the head coun­selor here at New­ton High School, I see what ev­ery­one else sees. Mr. Smith spend­ing count­less hours af­ter school to teach and coach his mu­sic stu­dents, the growth of our band over the last few years, and the ex­po­sure he gives our stu­dents through field­trips and sum­mer pro­grams. I also see what he does be­hind the scenes to help our 10th and 11th graders pre­pare for Gov­er­nors Honor Pro­gram, what he does to help our se­niors get their mu­sic port­fo­lios to­gether for po­ten­tial col­leges, and cre­at­ing new op­por­tu­ni­ties for our kids such as Jazz Band and All State Band. The stu­dents love him and I have much re­spect for what he does for our stu­dents.”

From the pool of quar­ter­fi­nal­ists, 25 mu­sic teach­ers from 16 states were se­lected by the Grammy Foun­da­tion as semi­fi­nal­ists. Two are from Ge­or­gia, Smith and Ni­cole Thomp­son of Tay­lor Road Mid­dle School in Johns Creek. Be­sides the recog­ni­tion for their work, semi­fi­nal­ists re­ceive $500 and their school re­ceives a match­ing amount.

In De­cem­ber, the Grammy Foun­da­tion will an­nounce 10 fi­nal­ists.

“There is noth­ing more I need to sub­mit. It is now in the hands of the se­lec­tion panel,” Smith said.

Fi­nal­ists re­ceive $1,000 with a match­ing amount go­ing to their school.

The 2017 Grammy Mu­sic Ed­u­ca­tor will be named early next year. The award win­ner, as well as his or her spouse or guest, will be flown to Los An­ge­les to be rec­og­nized dur­ing Grammy Week 2017 and to re­ceive his or her Grammy Award at the 59th An­nual Grammy Awards cer­e­mony on Feb. 12, 2017 at the Sta­ples Cen­ter. The win­ner and his or her school each re­ceive $10,000.

“I am so ex­cited for him and proud of him as well. I want him to go all the way to LA for the Gram­mys,” said Bak­er­field, re­gard­ing Smith’s se­lec­tion. “Not just for the tro­phy and recog­ni­tion which he so de­serves but also for the monies he will be able to pour into the NHS Sound Fac­tory Band.”

When asked about the im­pact of the at­ten­tion he has re­ceived as NCSS Teacher of the Year and as a Grammy Mu­sic Ed­u­ca­tor Award semi­fi­nal­ist, Smith said, “It has been bit­ter­sweet. I lost my mom last month and so have not been able to phys­i­cally share all this with her.

“The at­ten­tion has been great, but I am not a per­son who looks for that. I usu­ally di­rect recog­ni­tion to the stu­dents,” Smith said. “Stu­dents need teach­ers and teach­ers need stu­dents. I am blessed to have great stu­dents. They do what I ask them to do. They see the big­ger pic­ture. The stu­dent lead­ers get it. They want to be part of a larger vi­sion. I am happy for the at­ten­tion the pro­gram is get­ting.”

The larger vi­sion for Smith and his pro­gram is to pre­pare band stu­dents to con­tinue their mu­sic ca­reers post grad­u­a­tion.

“Stu­dents are buy­ing into the con­cept of get­ting bet­ter in­di­vid­u­ally and there­fore bet­ter to­gether,” Smith said. “If they want to play at the col­lege level, I want them to be ready. Ev­ery stu­dent who has au­di­tioned for one has re­ceived a col­lege schol­ar­ship.”

Rodgers is one stu­dent re­al­ized that vi­sion. He is now a fresh­man at Columbus State Univer­sity study­ing mu­si­cal per­for­mance. His in­stru­ment is the sax­o­phone. When The Cov­ing­ton News spoke with him, he was in a prac­tice room hon­ing his mu­si­cal craft.

Smith is cur­rently de­vel­op­ing ap­pli­ca­tion ma­te­ri­als for the Ge­or­gia state teacher of the year award. Those will be sub­mit­ted in De­cem­ber. Asked if there were any other awards in the works Smith laughed and said, “Not that I know of.”

Duane M. Ford | The Cov­ing­ton News

Ja­son Smith has been named a na­tional semi­fi­nal­ist for the 2017 Grammy Mu­sic Ed­u­ca­tor of the Year Award.

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