New Waterloo High School Director of Bands Zach Smith knows he has big shoes to fill.
Smith is taking over for Michael Mullins, who worked in the school for 34 years before retiring and is beloved by many.
Smith can now also be counted as one of those admirers, as he said Mullins has been instrumental in helping him take over the role.
“Mike has been a huge asset to me,” he said. “I’ve been able to call him, text him or whatever when I have a question. Because of that, it gave me a level of comfort that allowed me to step in and keep the train rolling. We’re improving some things, maintaining some traditions and trying to give it a fresh new look.”
Smith was hired in May to fill the role after about an hour-long Skype interview with both district personnel – including Mullins – and former WHS Band Parents Organization President CJ Runyon.
Smith got the call that he got the job about a week later.
Current WBPO President Garrin Brumley said the organization is happy to have Smith.
“We’re very pleased with the hiring,” he said. “He’s a very high-energy director and brings a lot of creative ideas to the program. We are excited about him propelling the program forward to new heights.”
Smith graduated from Northern Illinois University, obtaining a Bachelor of Music in music education.
He worked for one year in Carbondale, teaching grades 6-8 general music and choir.
He most recently taught in Antioch, which is near Illinois’ border with Wisconsin. While there, he taught music in grades K-5, band in grades 4-8 and three local high school bands.
Smith first heard about Waterloo when he was working with the high school marching band in Carbondale.
He said that reputation was a key factor in deciding to take the job, crediting Mullins with making the program so renowned.
“Marching band is a pretty huge part of my background,” Smith said. “I do a lot of that, and they’ve got a great, strong program here. It’s kind of like getting the keys to a Ferrari.”
Smith also said he and his wife wanted to stay in a smaller town, as that was the atmosphere he was familiar with and they are considering starting a family.
Smith has already started in his role, leading the high school’s band camp.
“Band camp was awesome,” Smith said. “The kids were super great. They could have easily been like ‘you’re new and crazy and loud,’ but they totally bought in.”
Although he appreciates where the program is at, Smith said he does have a couple of goals he would like to meet in his first year.
“I know it’s a huge part of the community already, but I’d really love to get us out there more and show off this amazing thing we have for the school,” he explained. “I’d also really love to start bringing our junior high and elementary kids up and showing them, ‘Hey this is the high school,’ and start building that pipeline and growing the program.
“That’s a huge thing that’s important to me is involving as many kids in the program so they can go on and be lifelong learners of music.”
While some of that may prove challenging, Smith said he’s excited for the task ahead.
“I’m just super duper excited to be here, and I feel very, very blessed to have this group of kids I have this year,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to this year.”