Original staff member Mr. Kris Harper to depart for elementary performing arts program


During zero period jazz band, Gabrielle Clouard, Jess Vicuna, Zachary Taylor and Mr. Kris Harper reminisce about their band experiences in one of the final classes taught by Harper. Harper is leaving to teach in an elementary school music program, as part of the passing of Proposition 28 to reshape performing arts programs in public schools. After 18 years of service, Harper’s position is being filled by a new music teacher, leaving many students both with questions and thoughts about Harper’s impact. “From a band teacher to student, the teacher will still be there, but there’s definitely a connection the students have [that] won’t be the same with another teacher. I think students will have to help other students adjust and adapt to a new teacher,” Mansour Brame said. Photo by Emerson Kibby

After juggling string orchestra, concert choir, jazz ensemble, music appreciation and symphonic band for 18 years, Mr. Kris Harper will be stepping away to pursue a position in elementary music education. 

“I have been here at Whitney a long time, and part of [leaving] was for personal reasons. The other part of it was the opportunity to start rebuilding our elementary school music program with a team. Being on the ground floor of that sounded like a really good opportunity,” Harper said. 

Starting at the school when it first opened in 2005, Harper has built the music program from the ground up, allowing opportunities for students with diverse aptitudes to conduct and perform. 

“If it’s anything musical on campus — marching band, jazz band, choir, music appreciation, pit orchestra for school musicals, anything like that — I take care of it. All of it is a balancing game. It takes a lot of time — a lot of time after school, before school or on weekends. I’m constantly doing something for the music department,” Harper said.

Changing his roles to teach at the elementary school level is a step to reinvigorating passions of and for music into younger generations. 

“If you cut the roots off a tree, the tree is going to die. If you stop elementary music, then there’s not going to be any music at the high school or at the middle school,” Harper said. “Being able to build that and expose every student in fourth, fifth and sixth grade to music is going to be something that, really in about four or five years, Whitney is going to see the impact of.” 

As Harper prepares to say his goodbyes, students reflect on the widespread influence of his musical presence on campus. Trina Tang, an orchestra leader in Harper’s absences earlier this year, said leading in Harper’s class helped her grow as a leader.

I had to step up to help lead the class, which included conducting, giving instructions and overall just helping the class run smoothly,” Tang said. “It was difficult for me at first since I wasn’t used to leading such a large group of students, but over time, with support from my peers and the motivation to do my best for Mr. Harper, I was able to fit into my evolved role as a leader of the class.”

For future Drum Major Angelica Dianala, it has been hard to imagine the music programs without Harper.

“I don’t think Mr. Harper’s shoes could ever fully be filled. He’s been working with this school since before it even opened. Harper always made everyone feel welcomed and loved,” Dianala said. “One memory that will always stick out to me was back when I still didn’t really know him. After the closing show of ‘Sound of Music,’ I was crying hysterically and found him in the band room — he was talking to someone but he still made the effort to hug me which was really special.” 

Current Drum Major Samara Frank said Harper formed a tolerant culture within the performing arts program. 

“He brings a very good culture to the band. He does try hard to make sure he’s accepting of all people. I’ve never really felt like I don’t belong because of how I look or how I act, and he does a very good job at regulating the culture in that way,” Frank said.

Harper’s decision to shift focus from being campus’ sole music teacher has opened a new stream of questions from affected students.

“It’ll be an adjustment period because no one knows what’s gonna happen since he teaches all of the band classes. I feel like there’s a little bit of a fear of like, ‘What’s going to happen to the music program? How is it going to be run? Is there gonna be a good teacher?’ There’s definitely some fear of Harper leaving,” Frank said. 

Yet Mrs. Deborah Lane, VAPA department chair and a panelist on the interviewing board for Harper’s replacement, said she is confident in the ability of Harper’s successor.

“Any time we have to make changes in our life, it’s scary. However, we’ve tried to pick somebody who would make that as easy as possible. Of course, this person is going to have a different personality and a different style; it would take a little bit of time to get to know them, but I’m pretty certain that this person is going to be able to do the job and do it well,” Lane said.

The process to find Harper’s replacement was driven by the passing of Proposition 28, financial legislature to revive performing arts in public schools. Passed overwhelmingly by California voters Nov 8, 2022, Prop. 28 was set to provide around $1 billion per year to fund arts programs in California. RUSD’s share of the funds is $1.4 million dollars annually, with 80% of it used for staffing and 20% for professional development or supplies.

The implementation of Prop. 28 for the district includes adding staff and development, like adding four elementary music teachers, creating a new special education VAPA educator position, providing additional music stipends to music programs at high schools and a variety of other supports to performing arts in public schools.

Harper said he heard about the opening at the elementary school level through the school board, who had explored how other districts operate.

“[The school board asked] ‘Why do they have these things and [why] don’t [we] have these things?’ It was a push coming from the school board and the district office, and then it was really sent forward with [Proposition] 28. The passing of [Proposition] 28 allocated money for music and visual and performing arts in schools,” Harper said. 

Reflecting on his previous years of musical education, Harper said he knows his bonds, relationships and memories will never be abandoned and the musical blueprint he has laid for his students over the years will continue to transform future generations of music enthusiasts. 

“I thoroughly enjoyed being at Whitney for 18 years,” Harper said. “It’s home, and I’m going to miss being home, but I know that I’m moving out and moving into a new chapter – and I’m really excited about that.”