At the end of a four-year stint as Sealy High School band director, Rolando Cantu’s band directing job in El Campo comes with some familiarity after interviewing with the same principal he nearly took an offer from last time on the job hunt.
Cantu said in a phone call Monday afternoon that former Edna and current El Campo High School principal Demetric Wells didn’t want to let Cantu’s rebuilding skills walk away a second time and Cantu announced last Friday that he accepted an offer to become the Ricebirds’ next band director
“I have to realize that it's my gig now and I have to go in and listen to what works and what didn't work to build the program,” Cantu said of what he’ll step into at El Campo High School. “That's the one thing that the principal talked to me about was, ‘We know that you build programs, we know that you've done that everywhere you go. This is why we're offering you this job because we want you to build this program.’”
Cantu said the Ricebird band had been on his radar since starting his career in Wharton County as middle school band director at Boling ISD in 2006. After two years at Boling, Cantu led the Woodland Acres Middle School band in Galena Park ISD for two years before spending 2010 to 2016 as band director for Brazos ISD.
“I've been looking at El Campo for a while,” Cantu said. “I'm not from that area but when I first started teaching in that area, El Campo was always something that was on my list. I thought, ‘If you guys interview me and I go for the interview, then I'm taking the job.’”
It did indeed happen just that way although Cantu said he wished he could have told his current students in person. Still, he said, they did take it better than he originally expected.
“Part of me feels like I'm letting these kids down with the virus and everyone staying out of school and not being able to really tell them face to face,” Cantu said. “I talked to the kids (via Zoom) and they seem to understand, they were a little bit more forgiving than I figured they would be so that made me feel better.”
It’s putting the students as the priority above all else that Cantu hopes to bring with him in his transition from Sealy to El Campo, he said. That's part of why he's gone back to Lamar University to pursue the education that will allow him to become a principal down the road and better serve children, he said.
“I'm going back to school to be a principal and the one thing that is said in all of our classes - it's something that I've always thought - is that we need to make sure that we're always putting students first,” Cantu said. “That has always been my model but now it is more so with everything about this year. I've got to make sure that the students are what's being put first.”
Sometimes, the students need a place to just be kids again, albeit if only for a few moments. Cantu said a handful of band members are having to work fulltime jobs now that they’re not in school to help provide for their families but he’ll remember the bright smile across their face after playing video games.
“There's probably not a lot of band directors that have a Nintendo Switch in their band hall for their kids to play,” Cantu said. “I think nowadays kids are told to grow up way too soon. One of my big things is letting the kids be kids in the band hall, I'll miss that. Seeing those kids that were so tough like ‘I'm already grown,’ and then sitting there and playing video games and that smile from when they were 10 years old coming out always really warmed my heart.”
Cantu said he made plenty of connections in his time in Sealy, even with those without students in the band like Tim “Big T” Fitzgerald, Eric Crosby and Jim Turnbull and the Sealy Tiger Sports Network crew. One connection Cantu was sure to mention, however, was with Jamie Klotz who might just be listed as a high school life skills coach in the Sealy ISD directory but wears many hats across the district.
“I really appreciate all the help Jamie Klotz did over the past four years, and how she had to deal with me,” Cantu said. “She probably deserves sainthood.”
After his first year at the helm, Cantu said three people made the all-region band and two went on to try out for the all-area band. This year, he said, 23 made the all-region band with 17 advancing to the all-area tryout.
Still, Cantu said he feels as though the program is now in great hands and he looks forward to seeing the future successes of Tiger band members.
When asked of what he leaves behind in regards to a legacy, Cantu said, “My highlight will be next year when I'm sitting in my office and I look at the scores for Sealy and I see that they got the best ratings they could across the board. That's going to make me happy and that's going to make me really know that these kids are working hard and that I did have something to do with that. They are set up to be successful for many, many years.”