Kathy Andersson knew when she nominated Jeff Kula as the MusiCounts Teacher of the Year Award, the result was never in doubt.
Kula, a longtime River East Collegiate music teacher, was honoured at a ceremony at the school on March 26. Kula received two $10,000 cheques from country musician Gord Bamford — one for himself and one for the school’s music program — at the school-wide assembly. He also took home an official Juno Awards statuette.
"I knew hands down he would be the recipient if I put forward the nomination," Andersson said. "When I mailed the application, I talked to Mike Hurley, the manager of MusiCounts, and I said ‘You need not look any further. On your desk, you have your teacher of the year.’
"A few days later, he called me and said ‘You were right.’"
Andersson’s daughter, Maria, is pursuing a career as a music teacher after seeing "astronomical" improvement in her saxophone and flute-playing under Kula’s tutelage.
Andersson and members of the MusiCounts team acknowledged there was a ruse at play – though Kula knew he was nominated, MusiCounts drafted up a fake rejection letter to leave Kula entirely unaware of the purpose of the assembly, which was announced to students only as having a theme of "respect."
Kula acknowledged after the presentation he was completely in the dark when it came to the announcement.
MusiCounts director Allan Reid said while almost all nominees were deserving of the award, there was just a little bit extra in Kula’s nomination that put him over the top.
"This is a man who, on weekends, will drive around and pick up reeds for the kids and drop it to their house so they can practise," Reid said.
In the award’s nine-year history, it’s the first time it has been awarded to a teacher in the city hosting the Junos, allowing the impressive presentation to be held.
Kula already has a pretty clear idea of how the $10,000 for the school could be well spent, with the student population set to boom in 2014-15.
"We have Grade 9s coming into the program for the first time, so that’s a whole inventory of horns we have to get going," Kula said. "We’ll put it to good use for sure. It’s very much a blessing."
In Kula’s 15 years at the school, he has seen the concert band grow from 42 to 110 students, and under his direction, the jazz program has attended the Essentially Ellington competition in New York five times and received the Jazz Award at the 38th Annual Optimist International Band Festival in 2013.
"The festivals and accolades are nice, but what happens on a daily basis is where the important work is," said Kula, who has taught for 27 years overall. "We’re just trying to have the kids do the best they can and work with that."
Kula, who plays drums in country cover band Pop the Trunk and for local musician David James, said he’s a fan of Bamford’s, and since he was set to receive the VIP treatment at The Juno Awards, hoped to find time to jam with the country star.
"I’ve heard his stuff for a long time and I’m very much a fan of what he does, so this is fun," Kula said.
River East had received a $10,000 Band Aid grant from MusiCounts last year, when the organization gave $610,000 to 70 schools.