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By Chevon T. Baccus APR
Executive Editor 

Cornelius Accepts Challenge to Rebuild Highlander Band


Last updated 5/30/2019 at 8:46am

Chevon Baccus

Lake Wales High School Principal Donna Dunson welcomes new band director Stephen Cornelius

Stephen Cornelius recognizes that the proud tradition of the Lake Wales Marching Highlanders is still embedded deeply in the community. He understands what he faces as the new band director for Lake Wales High School, and says he's ready for the challenge.

Reflecting on his new position, Cornelius wrote: "It was Theodore Roosevelt that said 'far better it is to dare mighty things...even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the grey twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.' I look forward to 'daring this mighty thing' which is the band program at Lake Wales and having it continue to bring value and meaning to the students and the city."

In recent years band directors have come and gone and an October 2018 photo showed only about 30 marching band members on the field. Reduced participation in band is often attributed to students having so many more sports and other extracurricular options. But High School Principal Donna Dunson said she is committed to building the band program and believes Cornelius is the right person for the job: "His background is impressive, and his approach to his music and his life is one of full engagement. The community has high expectations and so do I. The good news is that pressure did not dissuade him from taking this position. My bet is on Stephen Cornelius!"

Cornelius said he is looking forward to growing the music programs at Bok Academy and Bok North, charter schools that feed into Lake Wales High School: "Having the responsibility for the high school is humbling enough, but with the added opportunity to reach down to even 5th graders to grow those schools as well is a challenge I embrace."

Dr. Linda Ray, principal of Janie Howard Wilson Elementary in Lake Wales, worked with Cornelius in the past and helped connect him with Dunson. She said, "Stephen Cornelius will change the band culture at LWHS - People will soon say, 'What is the football team doing on the band field?' "

Cornelius has 14 years' experience teaching band, guitar, orchestra, music technology and music appreciation to middle and high school students and strings to elementary students. He spent the last eight years at Lake Alfred Polytechnic on the campus of Lake Alfred Middle School where he rebuilt the band program and earned a Florida Music Educators Association award for enrolling 57 percent of the school's students in a music program. He started two Tri-M Honor Societies for student musicians and his students earned excellent and superior ratings in competition. Cornelius also worked with the marching band programs at Haines City High and Ridge Community High School.

Previously Cornelius served as band director and music teacher at Woodside High School in Newport News, VA and North Florida Christian School in Tallahassee, where he taught guitar at Florida State University and participated in the Tallahassee Winds community band. He earned his bachelor's degree in music education at Christopher Newport University and his master's at FSU.

Cornelius lives in Lake Wales with his wife, Leslie and their baby girl, and they have a baby boy on the way. He said he is looking forward to supporting other arts organizations in the community.

LWHS Band Facebook page

Highlander band performing in October 2018

Cornelius recently met with band students and parents and started planning for summer band camp the two weeks before the start of the new school year. At the mandatory camp, which will run from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. July 21 through Aug. 2, Cornelius said he and his staff will teach the basics of marching band including how to march, setting drill and coordinates, learning halftime show music and pep band music.

Dunson said Cornelius's meeting with students and parents went well: "The feedback was wonderful; Stephen is off to a great start by getting to know the students and becoming more and more familiar with the charter system."

Rebuilding the Highlander Band will be challenging, but Dunson is optimistic: "Finding the right band director for Lake Wales has not been easy, but I will go on record as predicting that Stephen Cornelius will hit the right notes for this community."

Author Bio

Chevon T. Baccus APR, Contributing Writer

After working as a newspaper reporter and editor for eight years, Chevon moved on to a long career in public relations, marketing and business development. After 2 1/2 years as founding publisher of she's happy to still be an occasional contributor.

Email: [email protected]
Phone: 8636511065


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