Date: December 2008
About: Fran Fonza - Class of 1999
Choral Director Stays On-Key With Kids
Frances Fonza had some high notes to hit when she was hired three years ago to replace Dr. David Hedrick as director of vocal music at Shelby County High School. Not only has she remained on key with the program, she might have taken it up an octave or two.
Fonza has expanded Shelby Singers, adding several ensemble
groups, and has created a new excitement in the group and in the community. As evidence, the audience overflowed the 500-seat high school.
Mostly, she connects with her students in a way her peers have not. “I think she is awesome,” said Cyndi Skellie, former drama teacher who is now the school’s secondary gifted consultant. “(There is) so much discipline and energy and respect all rolled into one great teacher. She brings out the best in the kids and gives them so many opportunities. She is what good teaching is about — relationships, respect and real life opportunities.”
“Ms. Fonza exemplifies our beliefs in the value of positive
relationships with all and high expectations for all,”
school Superintendent James Neihof said. “One has
only to watch a few minutes of class or attend a
concert to realize how privileged our students are
to have a vocal music teacher with the professional skill and personal character Ms. Fonza demonstrates to students every day. I believe the deposits she makes in our students will pay huge dividends for a lifetime.”
So how does she connect? It’s a gift.
“I don’t know what it is,” she said. “I’m closer to their age than they know. I don’t necessarily speak their language, but I know their language and can speak it if I choose to.”
But even with the good rapport Fonza shares, she still commands respect.
“I can remember what it feels like to be in high school,” she said. “I loved high school and I loved all the activities that I did, and I did everything in high school that you can possibly do. I want to bring that to them. I want them to experience everything that I experienced.”
Kelsi Shipley is president of Shelby Singers, and is almost a teacher’s aide when the class meets. She exudes a sincere
respect for Fonza, calling her a great musician, teacher and person.
“I’ve never met anyone like her,” the senior said. “She plays numerous instruments, and she’s like one of the best singers known to mankind.”
Shipley said patience is one of her teacher’s best attributes.
“She knows how to reach kids and lets them know she’s there for them and is interested in what they want to know. She’s always asking, ‘Can I help you?’ She works very hard and does what she needs to do, and she does it very well. She’s an overachiever in everything she does.”
For the Quincy, Ill., native music really is in the blood. Her father is a retired band director, and his mother taught piano.
Fonza majored in music education at the University of Missouri, then obtained her masters degree in vocal music education at Florida State.
“My undergrad is in instrumental and voice,” she said. “And I did cello, saxophone and piano.”
She taught middle school chorus for a year in Franklin County (Ky.) before Shelby County. Her boyfriend, by the way, is band director at Kentucky State University.
Fonza is excited about President-elect Barack Obama and the fact that he’s from her home state, and that her mother helped get him elected to the U.S. Senate.
“We marched in the parade for him when he was first getting out there and people didn’t know who he was,” she said. “When he came out we were working for him and with him. This past summer we saw him again in Illinois when we were sandbagging during the floods. He came and we were
able to get a picture with him.
Sometimes a rehearsal doesn’t go exactly as planned. Here, Fonza organizes a recording session, which took place last year. “I think it’s a good thing for the country,” she said. “Politics aside, it’s an awesome thing.” In her near future, Fonza plans to obtain a doctorate in choral conducting, but in the even nearer future, her Shelby Singers concert calendar is filling up.
“We have the winter concert (Dec. 11) that we’re doing jointly with the orchestra and the band, and we’re doing lots of community stuff. We’re going to be singing for the Kosair children soon, and several nursing homes.
After that, the Blast and Show choirs will compete in Indianapolis in February among some of the top show choirs in the country, she said, and the Shelby Singers and Concert Choir head for Cincinnati to compete in May.
Fonza said she likes teaching high school students.
“They’re so mature,” she said. “You can joke with them and
talk to them about life things and they’ll actually listen to you. They see that life is coming up here, and I can
help them because I was just in their shoes not too long ago. I can speak to them about the things that they’re going to run into out there, and they’re listening.”
She worries sometimes that she’ll lose her connection as the gap between her age and her students’ ages widens.
“I get nervous about that, that I won’t have the same relationship,” she said. “My dad always did, and I’m hoping I’ll have that same connection. I want to be like that.”
In her 2½ years at Shelby County High School, the choruses have brought home several awards, like:
• Shelby Singers — Distinguished 2006-07 at Kentucky Music Educators Association Choral Festival
• Concert Choir — Distinguished 2006-07 at Kentucky Music Educators Association Choral Festival
• Shelby Singers — Distinguished 2007-08 at Kentucky Music Educators Association Choral Festival
• Concert Choir — Proficient at KMEA 2007-08
• Heritage Music Festival — First place for Blast Show choir; second for Shelby Singers; Sweepstakes Award.
Groups have also have participated in 2006 and 2007 at the Kentucky State University Choral Festival in Frankfort.