Phil Robb up for ‘Educator of the Year’

Choir Director Phil Robb conducts the Men's Chorus.

A locally esteemed choral director whose teaching and mentoring continue to influence generations of Garlic Capital graduates is being recognized in his 31st and final year of working for the Gilroy Unified School District.

Phil Robb, 60, who directs choir at Gilroy and Christopher High Schools, is one of 14 teachers in Santa Clara, San Benito, Santa Cruz and Monterey counties nominated for “Educator of the Year.” The honor is awarded through the California League of High Schools.

The winner, who will be announced during a special ceremony Dec. 5 at the Santa Cruz Elks Lodge, will continue to the next round and be considered for the CLHS “State Educator of the Year.” Robb was nominated by GHS Principal Marco Sanchez.

“I feel like I know (Robb). Our counselor is a GHS graduate who had him as a teacher,” chuckled Les Forster, Principal of Cypress Charter High School in Santa Cruz and maestro of the Dec. 5 ceremony.

Cypress High Counselor Megan Tresham (formerly Megan Stocks) is one of myriad GHS alumni who revere choir as one of their hallmark high school experiences.

“Choir for me was what kept me going to school and being in engaged in school,” said Tresham, 35. “It was awesome. I wish I could do it again.”

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 said. “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.”

Receiving the nomination for “Educator of the Year” is humbling he said, as is “knowing that you’ve had a part in people’s lives.”