‘Educator of the Year’ – Robb ties for second

Choir Director Phil Robb conducts the Men's Chorus.

Of the 14 nominees contending for the California League of High Schools’ Region V “Educator of the Year” award, Phil Robb, 60 – renown choir director for Gilroy and Christopher High Schools – tied for second place. The results were revealed at a celebratory dinner Wednesday evening at the Elk’s Lodge in Santa Cruz.

“Phil had the largest cheering section last night,” said Lee Forster, principal of Cypress High School and Trustee for CLHS Region V. “He had 28 supporters cheering for him.”

After a very close vote, the top honor went to Vivian Moutafian from Watsonville High School. Moutafian will now represent the four-county region as a contender for the 2012 California State “Educator of the Year” award.

CLHS’s Region V includes Monterey, San Benito, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. The annual award is presented to educators who represent all 11 regions across California.

Robb, who is in his 31st year of teaching choral music in Gilroy, reflected on his experience.

“It was a humbling experience and an honor to be among such a prestigious group of educators,” he said. “The universal theme of last night’s event was how all of the teachers there not only provide academics, but also care about the emotional well-being of each student and support each one as a whole-person.”

Only one educator could be chosen from the pool of 14 locally nominated finalists to represent Region V.

Nominees included teachers, administrators, counselors and other certified personnel. The nominees exemplify educational excellence and have made significant efforts to implement elements of educational reform in high schools.

Each region’s administrators cast the votes for Educator of the Year. Each nominating administrator has one vote, with the request that they not vote for their own nominee. Of the 14 sites/programs representing Region V, there were two charter high schools, two continuation high schools, one county ROP program, one private school, and the rest are large comprehensives.

About Gilroy’s legendary music man

Under Robb’s direction since 1984, the GHS choir program took on a life of its own and has since established a widely-revered reputation among academic and musical communities throughout California and beyond. The GHS choir room – emblazoned with ribbons, plaques, awards, pictures, banners and various memorabilia – speaks to a cherished singing tradition that has become a source of community pride under Robb’s lengthy and dedicated tenure.

He plans to retire at the end of this school year.

“I’m very honored. It’s always nice to have people acknowledge the fact that you work hard,” he previously told the Dispatch. “But I’m not the only person that works hard there. I’m surrounded by people who basically have committed their lives to working with kids. I get to be that much more out in the open, and seen, because of what I do – and so it’s a visual of what’s happening in classrooms; in every classroom. And I just get to be a representative of that. I know teachers who never get recognized and who work as hard as anybody else.”

Between Gilroy and Christopher High, Robb leads various choral groups including a concert, chamber, men’s and women’s groups. An army of 60 male singers will be performing “God Bless America” at the beginning of the Severance Bowl around 7:30 p.m. this Friday at GHS.

With Robb gone next year, GUSD will likely replace its super-director with two new choral instructors for GHS and CHS.

A popular tradition of sending students on epic trips to visit Gilroy’s sister city in Takko-Machi, Japan, is also equipped to thrive long after Robb’s career with GUSD sunsets. After seven years of arranging excursions for Gilroy choir students to stay with host families who live 5,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean, Robb and his wife helped establish the Gilroy-Takko Student Exchange Program. Known as GTSEP, the program allows GUSD students to become enmeshed in Japanese culture, traditions and lifestyles, while strengthening a transcontinental relationship and forming new friendships with Gilroy’s sister city. This is the fourth year GTSEP has been in existence, as exchanges made prior to this took place solely with the Gilroy High School Chamber Choir beginning in 1989.

“It was an effort to continue the opportunity for kids to go to Japan,” said Rob. “We hope that we can step away, and another group of younger teachers are gonna pick up the ball and run.”

Despite this being his last year, Robb joked he’s simply too busy to marinate in moments of sentimental nostalgia.

“For the most part, to be honest I am so busy trying to make sure that we get stuff done that I haven’t given much thought to it,” he laughed. “I had a sentimental moment during our last fall concert, but my head is down.”

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