JACKSONVILLE — Jacksonville High School’s new band director is a 23-year-old Jacksonville State graduate who wants to make use of his recent connection to the university to help the high school program.
By vote of the Jacksonville Board of Education Wednesday, Graham Bennett, 23, will take over the program from its longtime director Jeff Gossett, 50.
Retiring from the Alabama public school system, Gossett has a new job waiting for him in Georgia — directing the band at Town Middle School. He’s leaving Jacksonville High School after 22 years.
Bennett graduated from JSU in December last year and is starting his career at the high school. The Birmingham man was chosen from about 30 applicants, Superintendent Jon Paul Campbell said.
"We had a great tradition here with Jeff being here for such a long period of time. He's built the program and has very high standards," Campbell said. "With having someone as new to the profession as Graham is, we're hoping to continue that longevity and that he will be here for 20-plus years as well."
When Gossett, a Georgia native, came to Jacksonville High School just four years after starting his career as a director just 36 students participated in the band program. Within three years that number shot up to 125 and today about 90 students are in the program, Gossett said.
"It just felt like home," Gossett said. "I've always said I teach the best kids ever."
Since taking over at Jacksonville, Gossett initiated the school's Jazz Band and led the program to win competitions.
"He's got a great legacy of students that he taught who have gone on to do some great things in college," Campbell said. "That's really an accomplishment to be anywhere for 22 years."
Gossett and his wife, Stephanie, who works in Oxford, plan to remain in the area.
Bennett graduated from Hoover High School and spent the last several months assisting band directors at schools in the Birmingham area. While at JSU Bennett held several leadership positions in the Marching Southerners, serving as a section leader.
"That gives you a lot of experience that a lot of people just don't have," Campbell said.
A small group of parents whose children are in the band attended the meeting and said they are relieved to know who the next band director will be.
"I think the kids were just ready to get a band director on board," said Tim Barry, who has two daughters in band. "They're already looking forward to this coming year's show."
Bennett said he already has several ties in the community because of his work in Jacksonville as a college student. He added that he wants to use those connections to strengthen the relationship between the high school and the university and that he's excited to get started.
"I’m very excited and I'm ready to go," Bennett said.
Bennett and his wife, Emily, live in the Birmingham area and plan to move nearer to his new job. He has a 10-month contract and will be paid according to a pre-established scale that dictates how much educators are paid according to their degrees and levels of experience.