HANFORD — Lisa Butts, former Kings County Teacher of the Year and longtime Hanford West High School band director, is ready to retire at the end of the school year.
"Words cannot express the gratitude and appreciation we have for Lisa,” said Bill Fishbough, Hanford Joint Union High School District superintendent. “Her devotion to all her students and her incredible work ethic are not only motivation to me, but to all educators, parents and community members.”
Butts started her career 33 years ago after she graduated from California State University, Fresno. She said she first worked at three Tulare city elementary schools before getting a job at Woodrow Wilson Junior High School in Hanford.
Butts said she worked for a combined 11 years at Woodrow Wilson, Monroe Elementary and Jefferson Elementary schools. She started working at Hanford West High School when the school opened 19 years ago. Right now, she teaches more than 120 students in her percussion class, two jazz bands, concert band and symphonic band.
Her senior year at Hanford High School is when Butts decided to become a music teacher, after being inspired by the music director, Lee McCullough. She said she saw McCullough as a great musician and teacher who had fun everyday with the band, and she wanted to have that as well.
Butts, a trumpet player, said she considers everything her favorite part of teaching, saying the kids are great and she loves watching them grow from “silly freshman” to adult seniors who have learned so much and “can play really good.”
“It’s just fulfilling to be able to see them and how they mature over the years,” Butts said.
The Hanford West band has gone on many trips over the years, including to music festivals and competitions around the Valley, Las Vegas and Reno, Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, and a few festivals at sea where the band played on cruise ships to Mexico.
Butts said taking students to Washington, D.C., in 2006 is a trip she’ll always remember and is her proudest moment in her career. She said they got to tour the White House and visit Fort McHenry, where they raised a huge flag and sang the Star Spangled Banner.
The reason for Butts deciding to retire? The answer is simple: she’s just tired. She said the work of a high school band director almost never stops. They prepare and work for 10 or more hours a day, six days a week. Plus she was a part of many music organizations, even serving as president to some.
Her plans after retiring include sleeping a lot, working at her church more, perhaps getting a little personal music-playing back in her life by possibly joining friends’ bands, golfing more, and spending time with her husband, Bill, who has been retired for eight years already.
Butts said she’ll miss the students the most. She said they’re crazy, but also fun, and she knows she’ll still get to see them or keep up with them on Facebook. She said she has several students in her program right now who want to be band directors and past students who have pursued becoming band directors. When students tell her that she inspired them to become band directors, Butts said it’s the highest compliment and best feeling she can get.
Past students who have become band directors include Rob Bentley at Pioneer Middle School, Bill Wilkinson at Woodrow Wilson, and many others teaching outside the Valley. In fact, the person taking over the position of band director from Butts is a former student – Eric Ramirez.
Wilkinson has known Butts since he started taking trumpet lessons from her when he was a 15-year-old sophomore, and she has been his mentor ever since. He said she’s the reason he wanted to become a band director; she inspired him and he knew early on that he wanted to follow in her career path.
Wilkinson said Butts was always passionate in what she did, cared deeply about students in and out of the classroom, had a great sense of humor and was just an all-around genuine person. He said he’s fortunate to have her as a mentor, and knows many other people can say she had an influence on their lives as well. He said she definitely left her mark on Hanford and will be missed.
“At the end of my career, if I could have a fraction of the career she’s had, I would consider myself lucky,” Wilkinson said. “It’s hard to match what she has been able to do.”
Butts has many people in her own life who served as mentors throughout her career, such as Duane Weston at College of the Sequoias, Frank Bibb at Fresno State, and fellow Tulare teachers Susan Burley and Jim Kusserow, who she said guided her in the beginning stages of her career.
She said she has a great staff who she considers friends, like Ruben Amavisca, who has worked with her for 19 years as the color guard director, and her administrative assistant, Trish Adams. She is also friends with Sierra Pacific band director Jeff Detlefsen and Hanford High band director Janet Levine, and said they have great friendships with each other mixed with competition.
Detlefsen said he’s known Butts for around 11 years and calls her extremely caring, hardworking, someone who gives 100 percent in everything she does and is always willing to help others. He said he’s sad to see her go, but is excited about her finally getting to relax.
“She’s such a major part of the music community in Hanford,” Detlefsen said. “We call her the ‘Queen of Hanford’ because she’s a big part of all the music programs.”
Butts said she’s been very lucky to work at a place with a principal and district superintendent who have supported music and the arts. She said she never had to battle with administrators for support like other music teachers have.
“I probably lasted a lot longer than some would have lasted because I have it a lot easier,” Butts said. “I’ve got total support.”
Hanford West Principal Darin Parson said Butts is not only an awesome and positive person, she is “what an educator should be.” He said she put her life into the program and the students and made the Hanford West band what it is today. He said she will be incredibly missed as a friend and colleague, but her retirement is well-earned.
“You’re not going to find anybody better than Lisa Butts,” Parson said. “You don’t replace someone like her.”
“She is an extremely talented musician who is able to teach her craft to her students.” Fishbough said. “Lisa has set the standard for musical excellence that will guide the Hanford Joint Union High School District for years to come. We wish her the very best in her retirement."
Butts’ final concert as band director will be Tuesday, when the band has its Spring Concert. The very next day, Butts will take her Jazz Band A to Sacramento to perform on the steps of the Capitol building as part of Stand Up 4 Music day.
After that, she finally gets to sleep.