Next I called up a slide showing a bright, contemporary classroom. “This is a chem tech class in progress,” I said. In the slide, students tapped at logarithmic calculators as they labored to crack the complex mathematical equations written on the board. “These are people who had been saddled with limiting labels: ‘welfare mother,’ ‘drug addict,’ ‘unemployed,’ ‘homeless,’ ‘ex-con,’” I said. “Not one of them had any background in science or math. Yet after a few months they are mastering the skills they need to do complex computations and land jobs as chemical technicians for large local companies like Mylan Labs, Nova Chemicals, and Bayer.

Society doesn’t expect this kind of thing from people whose potential has been defined and diminished by one restrictive label or another, but when you see accomplishment like this, you can’t help but realize how hollow and damaging labels can be.”

My next slide showed an image of a sellout crowd filling the seats of an intimate, elegantly proportioned concert hall. “This is our music hall,” I said. “We host live jazz concerts here, featuring virtually all the top names in jazz music—artists like Billy Taylor, Dizzy Gillespie, Nancy Wilson, Joe Williams, Dave Brubeck, Milt Jackson, and Chuck Mangione, just to name a few. When I first conceived the idea of adding a jazz component to Manchester Bidwell, I got a lot of puzzled stares. I wasn’t surprised. After all, why does a school that teaches arts and job skills need a performance hall? What does jazz have to do with helping our students turn their lives around? At the time, I had no answer for those questions, but jazz music was one of my defining passions, and my heart told me the place wouldn’t be complete until jazz was an integral part of its fabric. I never would have predicted that our jazz program would grow to become one of the oldest and most successful jazz subscription series in the country, or that the presence of so much great music, and the relationships we’d build with so many great jazz stars, would lead to the creation of our own jazz label. I certainly never guessed that the albums we produced would win Grammy Awards.

But all those things happened, and in the process, jazz has enriched the culture of our school, enhanced our reputation, and earned us new allies and a level of recognition that has opened the doors to unexpected opportunities for growth.”