Coughlin marches to ‘Music Educator of Year’
BY GINGER BRASHINGER Correspondent June 6, 2012 2:40PM
Summit Hill Junior High School band director Kim Coughlin leads the symphonic band during a concert outside the District 161 offices. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 8, 2012 8:03AM
When Kim Coughlin strikes up the band, there’s going to be some toe-tappin’ going on.
The 2011 Quinlan and Fabish Music Company’s “Chicagoland Outstanding Music Educator of the Year” continues to honor her father’s belief that a marching band should always, well, play marches.
Coughlin said that when her father, Arden Luce, heard about her first teaching job as band director for Summit Hill District 161 in 1981, Luce advised her to play march tunes.
“He told me, ‘You can’t tap your foot to some of the songs they play,” Coughlin said. “You have to promise me you’ll always play a march — preferably a Sousa.”
For the last 31 years at Summit Hill, Coughlin has followed her father’s advice and added her own philosophy of teaching.
“Every kid has something to contribute.” Coughlin said. “There’s always going to be kids who struggle and may never get past the beginning stage. If they’re trying, they’re still going to be part of the group.”
Coughlin sees band and music, in general, as a way for many students to make a connection with school that they might not otherwise make.
“For some kids, band is the only reason they come to school,” Coughlin said. “You have to find that little something in each kid that opens them up to let them know you’re on their side.”
To some, being all-inclusive might seem to be the formula for a mediocre band program, but the opposite has been true under Coughlin’s direction.
The Symphonic Band, made up of about 48 of 100 band students, earned a first place rating at the Illinois Grade School Music Association this year.
Although it was one of many times the junior high band had achieved a first place rating, Coughlin said, it was the highest score in the district’s history.
“When they opened this new school, the kids took more pride in themselves,” Coughlin said about the state-of-the-art Summit Hill Junior High building opened in the 2007-2008 school year.
“They don’t feel like ‘scummit hill’ anymore,” she said, referring to the derogatory nickname used by some members of neighboring school districts to describe Summit Hill.
Despite limited resources for many years, Coughlin has built a band program whose students are welcomed by Lincoln-Way District 210 band and music teachers. Coughlin said District 210 teachers have commented that students from District 161’s band program have done so well “because they love it,” something Coughlin feels is a result of the non-competitive environment.
“They told me District 161 kids are the kids who step up and become leaders,” Coughlin said.
Coughlin has set that example, too.
She recently was inducted into the Jaycees Hall of Fame for her 25 years as an active member of the Frankfort Jaycees, a service organization for which Coughlin has put in many hours of charitable work.
She is an avid equestrian and horse-lover who has owned several horses and is responsible for the rescue of a severely abused horse and the extended life of a retired thoroughbred.
Coughlin still makes time for family, despite her rigorous schedule. Family time is spent at her Frankfort Square home with her husband, Dan, and their daughter, Kerrie, 16. Coughlin said Kerrie came to understand the time Coughlin put in with her band once Kerrie became a band member at the junior high and then at Lincoln-Way North High School.
Coughlin sees her future much like her present. She is looking forward to the 2012-2013 school year which already has a band registration of an additional 40 members.
“I don’t have any intention of retiring,” Coughlin said. “I love my job. I wouldn’t give up these kids for anything. It’s not like coming to work.”