5600 Cougar Drive, Naples, FL
NAPLES — Benny Bolden wants his students at Barron Collier High School to embrace the band’s new motto.
“It is, ‘Never forgetting our past, but embracing our future,’” he said.
It is an important motto for Bolden, 29, who became the new band director after Barron Collier High School band’s former leader Kelly Parker was told she was being transferred last month.
Bolden is quick to say he doesn’t want his students to forget Parker and he praises the job she did with the band program at Barron.
“Kelly Parker is an extraordinary instructor,” he said. “I don’t want the kids to forget that. But we have to move forward. That’s what the motto signifies.”
Bolden was hired last week after a committee that included parents, current band staff and school administrators unanimously selected him as their top choice.
A Miami native, Bolden received his bachelor’s degree in music from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University. He has a master’s degree in educational leadership from Capella University, an online university based in Minneapolis, and is pursuing a PhD in educational leadership from Capella University.
Bolden has taught at Miami Northwestern Senior High School since 2007 and previously taught at a middle school in Leon County. When he asked what brought him to Naples, Bolden said the move felt right.
“I decided to come to Naples because arts education in Miami is in a different situation,” he said. “I saw the writing on the wall. ... This is a rare situation. I am in awe that there are schools like this around.”
Bolden said he believes he is a good fit for the Barron Collier High School band because he is “a charismatic person who is easy to get along with and easy to talk to.”
“This is a unique program in terms of quantity, in terms of quality, in terms of style,” he said. “I think my personality fits well with this school. ... It’s been wonderful so far. The students have met my expectations already.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Bolden walked around the halls of Barron Collier High School checking on groups of freshmen students who have come to band camp early to get some extra help. The full band won’t report to band camp until Monday.
As for what changes he plans to make in the Barron Collier High School band, Bolden said fans probably won’t see too many differences.
“I am not making many changes. It’s my job to take what they have and make it more refined, go into more detail,” he said.
While he doesn’t see it as a change, Bolden said he also plans to make the school’s symphonic band and jazz band more visible in the community.
“I want to promote the music program as a whole, not just the marching band,” he said. “I want the community to see all that Barron Collier High School has to offer. ... And there is no reason our symphonic band won’t be able to play in China some day, or the jazz band could play in London.”
Bolden, who is a tuba player, said he would also like to ensure Barron Collier High School maintained its superior rating in the state marching band competition. He also said one of his goals is that Barron Collier High School would win the John Philip Sousa Foundation’s Sudler Flag of Honor. It is an award bestowed by the Foundation to “identify, recognize and honor high school band programs internationally that have demonstrated particularly significant high standards of excellence in concert activities over a period of several years.”
Bolden, who moved to Naples with his wife, Whitney, and their two children — an 8-year-old son and 2-month-old daughter — said he is happy with the reception he has already received at Barron Collier High School. He hopes the community will give him a chance as well.
“I hope they give me the opportunity to prove myself,” he said. “The kids didn’t need me talking to the media right now. They needed reassurance that their band was going to continue. I spent time doing that. But I hope the community gives me a chance.”
Connect with K-12 education policy reporter Katherine Albers at www.naplesnews.com/staff/katherine-albers/.