"Band kids in general, they want to take an upper-level class," Fisher said. "Sometimes you're going to have an AP class or an honors class butt heads with band."
In the past, that meant trying to work with kids after school or in the summer, Fisher said. Moving to a traditional schedule — with eight shorter periods each day — has given students more flexibility to schedule band class.
Nitro High band director Rich Brooks agreed. Although moving from a 90-minute period to a 45-minute one leaves little time to waste, he thinks students enjoy the change.
And it has led to increased participation.
"My band (with block scheduling) usually consisted of between 40 and 45 kids," Brooks said. "Last year I had 53. This year I'm right at 60."
Brooks said his students have just about finished learning their show for the festival. The students are excited, but Brooks didn't want to make any predictions.
"We just want to make a good showing," he said.
This has been a particularly challenging year for Fisher. She said her father, Roland, who drives her band's equipment truck and is a grandpa figure to members, has been in the hospital off and on over the past month.
"He's kind of quiet, but they call him Poppy," Fisher said. "We're kind of a package deal."
Fisher needed to care for her father during the school's band camp. But she felt confident in handing the reins to her student leaders and some adult helpers. She gave them a list of things to do early in the morning, went to the hospital to be with her father, and worked with the students in the evening when she returned.
"They took care of business," Fisher said. "We're a little family up here."
The family has been working hard since the end of July, practicing almost every day in preparation for the season and festival.
Lockhart, meanwhile, is feeling nostalgic about her 38 years as an educator but looking forward to retirement.
"I want to have time to do things I want to do. I'm going to buy symphony tickets and never miss a concert. I may sing in the community chorus.
"I'd like to be more active in my church. I used to play the piano and direct the choir. I need to make music somewhere."
She taught for 23 years before taking the central office position. The job grew as administrative jobs were consolidated. Five people used to divide the responsibilities for choral music, band music and fine arts that she juggles now.
Yet the school system has managed to expand services to students, going from three to six string teachers; 14 to 26 elementary music teachers; and 5.5 to 14 elementary art positions during her years in charge.
"It's not where I want us to be, but we've sure come a long, long way," she said.
She credited support from the elected school board and its top administrators.
"They feel the arts are important, and they've looked at research that shows students exposed to arts score higher on the tests everybody is concerned about."
Ticket for the festival cost $7 in advance and $8 the day of the event. They can be purchased at each of the eight county high schools, Kerr's and Gorby's music stores and Laidley Field. There is no charge for children 4 years old and younger.
Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or david.bouc...@
dailymail.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/Dave_Boucher1.