Accomplished percussionist superintendent relates how music changed his life

NEWARK — After a lively drum solo to grab the post-lunch attention of more than 200 area school administrators, Michael Hayden didn't miss a beat in relating his own story of how music changed his life, offering it as inspiration for colleagues to be life-changing influences on their students.

The superintendent of the Clyde-Savannah Central School District, an accomplished percussionist, was the closing speaker Friday of the two-and-a-half day Wayne Finger Lakes Leadership Academy at the W-FL BOCES Conference Center.

He joked that if attendees did not remember what he said, at least they would remember “an awesome” drum set.

Hayden said many teachers do not realize the impact they have on their students and recounted his challenges growing up on Long Island, from living with childhood traumas relating to health and other issues, including a learning disability, to his interaction with teachers — many who nurtured and encouraged his development, and one who left him devastated.

Even his worst experience with a teacher, though, was a life-changing inspiration to prove himself. Hayden, the son of a musician, also loved music and said he was crushed when he did not make the cut for the elementary school chorus at the end of third grade with the teacher even telling him he would never be a musician because he could not sing on pitch.

“Would you ever imagine a music teacher telling a kid they'll never be a musician because they can't sing on pitch?” he asked. “Not many third-graders can sing on pitch.”

His natural talent, however, was recognized by his uncle and his fourth-grade band director, the latter finding it incredible Hayden beat his way through the first lesson book in just a week, a feat that usually takes the whole school year of instruction.

Hayden went through the second book in about two weeks and the band director moved Hayden up to the fifth-grade band.

“Something started to happen,” he said. “Something was just alive in me. What started to happen is my reading improved 100 percent.”

The style of reading music — known as tracking — transformed his approach to reading text, having his eyes already on the next line before getting to the end of the one above.

His math skills also greatly improved, with whole, half and quarter notes leading to a better understanding of fractions and the breakdown of mathematical equations.

Instead of dreading going to school, he was excited and never missed a day again through graduation. He said he felt accepted and supported, and felt that people cared.

His drum opening was also inspired by an elementary school teacher he said would always play some music to grab the kids' attention, and suggested his colleagues try the same.

Hayden performed with the acclaimed Long Island Youth Orchestra throughtout the Southwestern United States and Central and Latin America, as noted by Red Jacket Superintendent Charlene Dehn, who introduced him.

He received bachelor's and master's degrees in music from The Crane School of Music at State University at Potsdam and went on to become a percussionist, conductor and pianist. He not only became a successful musician, but began teaching music, as well — first in the Westhampton Beach School District and then at Sodus, before going into administration after earning his Certificate of Advanced Studies in Educational Administration at The College at Brockport, State University of New York.

“I always said if I can change one kid's life through music, then I've done my job,” Hayden told administrators from W-FL BOCES and its 25 component school districts. “I'm happy to continue to be a strong advocate of arts education. I think I'm speaking to the choir here,” he quipped. “And, I intend to.”

The conference, “Engaged Leadership: Creating Healthy Schools,” included several speakers. Most were local colleagues Hayden referred to as “leaders leading leaders.”

“We have so much knowledge and expertise right here at Wayne-Finger Lakes BOCES,” he said. “The collaborative efforts are incredible.”

Topics included trauma response, social emotional wellness, how a child's health connects to success, understanding addiction and the impact of poverty — a variety designed to help administrators help themselves and their staff to better serve their students.

Hayden reminded his collaborators adults are impacted by trauma too, and suggested they check in on their staff.

“You have to be there for people,” he said. “This is a people business first. You have to be there for the kids and you've got to be there for your staff.”

He then recognized and thanked Nelson Kise, superintendent of the Sodus Central School District, who, as the principal when Hayden was a music teacher, was very supportive of Hayden and his family following the death of his second son, several days after his birth in 2005.

Hayden said to take care of families, thanking his wife, Jennifer, an administrator in the Waterloo Central School District who had to leave the conference earlier, calling her the smartest person he knows whose compassion, dedication, strength and forgiveness are second to none.

“Mike Hayden is an exceptional leader and just shared with us his vulnerability,” said Honeoye Superintendent David C. Bills, president of the Wayne-Finger Lakes Superintendents' Executive Committee.

“We're a group of administrators that really likes to laugh and learn together, and that's sort of our mantra and our focus,” said Newark Superintendent Matt Cook, who also serves on the executive committee. “These three days affords us that opportunity to connect with each other and to connect with colleagues from other districts that we don't get to see as often as we'd like.”

Bills said the gathering was “a wonderful microcosm” of the whole region, wanting to learn together and laugh together.

“People would be surprised at how much our districts do together,” he added.

“To me, personally, I think one of the most significant things is when you realize that everyone in this room is someone that you can turn to and rely on,” said Jessica Sheridan, director of staff development with Wayne-Finger Lakes BOCES.

Sheridan and Shannon Marshall were also recognized by Bills “as the backbone” of the event, bringing it to together and attending to every detail.

Rounding out the executive committee are Dehn, Naples Superintendent Matt Frahm and Seneca Falls Superintendent Bob McKeveny.

In addition, $2,250 was raised for a scholarship fund and 571.5 pounds — well exceeding the 250 pound goal — of food items were collected for the Newark Food Closet.