Drums of Thunder director offered contract for 2022-23 school year, a month after receiving nonrenewal notice
Christopher Golinski, Hillside School music teacher and director of the school’s 38-year-old drum corps, Drums of Thunder, had a bad feeling when he heard the district would be making cuts at the end of the 2021-22 school year.
Golinski began teaching in Montclair in 2019, assuming his position with Drums of Thunder at the same time.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic and remote learning, Drums of Thunder wasn’t able to operate normally and perform around town, Golinski said. Plus, he did not have tenure.
So when he was called to meet with the Hillside principal and vice principal, he knew what was coming. And the first thing to come into his mind were his wife and 7-month-old son, he said.
“We all just sort of sat there, three adults just being like, ‘OK, well, I'm here until the 28th, and until then, I'm gonna give you everything I got,’” he said. “And I guess we'll just kind of figure it out.”
Golinski was one of 35 Montclair teachers to receive a nonrenewal notice from the district in May. He’s also one of 21 teachers who have since been rehired and offered a contract for the 2022-23 school year, according to Cathy Kondreck, Montclair Education Association president.
For Golinski, a musician for as long as he can remember, who was inspired to teach by his own childhood music teacher, his job at Hillside is more than just a job.
“I hope to retire doing this,” he said. “It's something that is a really big passion of mine, and I feel like it kind of helped guide me in other areas of my life, and that's what I try to give the kids.”
Golinski, who sees about 140 to 170 students each school day, said he hopes to teach his students more than just drumming techniques or clarinet fingerings.
“There are a lot of kids who work with me at the school, and they're not going to be professional musicians and they don't need to be, and they shouldn't feel like they have to,” he said. “What I'm hoping to give them are these life skills — to let the music be a vehicle for those larger concepts.”
On May 24, Hillside parent Heather Miller started a Change.org petition, collecting support for Drums of Thunder and the Hillside arts program, both of which stood to be affected by the nonrenewals, she said at the May 25 school board meeting. As of the afternoon of May 26, the petition had received more than 740 signatures. As of July 11, the petition had 1,093 signatures.
At that May 25 board meeting, Drums of Thunder performed in front of the board, and students spoke on behalf of Golinski. The program was their favorite part of school, and Golinski was a great teacher, they said.
After the students performed, Ponds assured the crowd that Golinski would keep his job and Drums of Thunder would continue on during the 2022-23 school year.
But during that meeting, Golinski was at home with his family.
“I would have liked to go to some of the board meetings, but I have a 7-month-old child, and he needs to be fed, he needs to be attended to,” he said. “By working to the bone while I'm there, I think the least I deserve is to be able to go home and not have to worry about whether I can afford to buy formula for my son.”
Being the best teacher he can be while he’s at school and the best husband and father he can be at home takes up all of his time, he said. He added that he isn’t interested in getting swept up in drama or politics within the district.
“We're hopefully just trying to have a positive influence on each other, and that extends through the circumstances of what's happening” with the nonrenewals, Golinski said. “I'm not here to be like, ‘Oh, I'm on this side’ or ‘This side is bad,’ that doesn't do anything. We're not gonna get anywhere doing that. I'd much rather us get somewhere.”