A dedicated principal and a devoted alumnus are rebuilding the music program at Standard Middle School.

The dynamic music programs in the Bakersfield City and Panama-Buena Vista Union school districts are so well-regarded and famous that one can easily overlook what is happening in smaller school districts. The key to the success of those two giant programs isn’t the districts’ size — it’s the leadership, especially coordinators Mike Stone (BCSD) and Amy McGuire (PBV).

Well, Standard Middle School has got some pretty great leaders, too, and they are making a difference at the Oildale school.

At a time when many districts are making or preparing for cuts, Standard Middle School and the Standard School District have just made a tremendous investment in rebuilding its band program and other activities — most notably almost $55,000 worth of new band uniforms, for a growing schedule of marching, competitions and performances.

“We’ve done a lot,” said Susan Denton, principal at the middle school. “Our school district is very committed to educating the whole child.”

Denton said the music program extends to the elementary school next door to the North Chester Avenue campus, with music reading reaching into the lower grades (parents will be delighted to know that flutophones are in their future). Once in middle school, students will have the opportunity to grow through many levels of music performance: three levels of band, beginning and advanced choir and what Denton calls “full drama,” productions that involve not only actors but also singers and instrumentalists.

“Our board is really committed that we provide these opportunities for our students,” Denton said.

“And I’ve got a lot of staff who are enthusiastic and committed.”

“We have a lot of students who would not have these opportunities if we didn’t provide them,” Denton said.

A test of that commitment came this summer, when, after an initial growth period, the relatively new band director left for a new job out of state. With just a few weeks to go before school started, the school hired Nathaniel Mauldin, a master’s degree candidate at Fresno State, and a graduate of Standard Middle School, who happened to be applying for a teaching position with the district — in math, his other area of study.

“I was always wanting to come back to Standard,” Mauldin said. “This is where my love of music started, with my middle school band director, Grady Walls.

“It just felt right coming back here and sharing my love of music.”

Mauldin said he had about a week to prepare for the school’s summer band camp, an intensive boot-camp experience that prepares students for the first semester of music activities.

Both Denton and Mauldin described an ambitious school year, with a competitive drum line, marching in the Veterans Day and North of the River Christmas parades, band competitions and a performance at Knott's Berry Farm. This is in addition to school performances, and joint activities with neighboring school districts such as Norris.

“We like to collaborate with districts around us as well as North High School,” Denton said. “We want the kids to be able to feed into the high school. It’s a full community.”

Denton, who comes from a family of educators, shares Mauldin’s dedication.

“I was an orchestra/choir kid, and I know the richness this can provide a kid,” Denton said.

“A lot of these kids have a very competitive spirit,” Mauldin said. “I want to be a medium that helps bring out that spirit.”

Mauldin also stressed the social and intellectual skills that the music program fosters — studying, commitment, even an opportunity to teach others.

“Just being prideful (sic) with the work that you do,” Mauldin said.

Denton said more investment in the school’s arts programs is coming, including upgrades to the landmark auditorium.

“So we’re going to continue to keep things going,” Denton said. “And the kids sound great.”

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