Teacher, principal inspire music programs

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By Don Pace

Will the third time be the charm for Gene Parson and Arnell David Arellanes?

For a third year, the West Las Vegas principal and choir director have been nominated as Outstanding School Administrator and Music Educator of the Year, respectively.

Each year, the New Mexico Music Educators Association recognizes an administrator who has demonstrated support for and commitment to high quality music education programs in their school.

The association also awards a music educator who has made significant contributions to the field of music in the schools of New Mexico.

The West Las Vegas choir is no stranger to performing before packed houses at Ilfeld Auditorium in years past, but coming off back-to-back state championships, Arellanes says he, his choir and the community are ready for this year’s two-night extravaganza.

“I really believe this will be the best show West has ever put out; it’s the peak of everything we’ve ever done. We’re doing scenes from seven different musicals, including dialogue, costuming, lights and sound. It is also a longer program, lasting about an hour and forty-five minutes, and it’s well worth the $5 ticket price to see what our young people are capable of doing. They are amazing,” Arellanes said.

Arellanes said he likes it when residents can watch somebody from their neighborhood on stage doing wonderful things. It gives them a different perspective of local youth, he said.  

As for receiving personal awards, Arellanes said over the years he has also gained a new perspective on their meaning. While teaching in Los Alamos in the 1990s, he was named New Mexico Teacher of the Year.

“Back then, I thought it was more about letting my family know I was doing what my passion was, and that’s how I was being rewarded. Now, it’s more about the kids, and that they see there’s something very, very powerful about music education. While I’m very proud to be nominated, it really is about the kids seeing the person who pushes them hard every single day, who is demanding, and a bit of a tyrant, be recognized in such a way,” Arellanes said with a laugh.

Arellanes choked up with emotion at the thought of having his family in the audience for the upcoming show.

“My entire family will be at the performance, with the exception of my mom, Elena Valencia Arellanes, who passed away, and this is all about her. She was quite a wonderful singer and the one who instilled in me the love of music, who taught us to respect everybody, and the one who put the desire in me to become a teacher. She would say, ‘In order to affect the community and make it better, you have to be the example,’ and she was the best example I can imagine.” Arellanes said.

Parson said he is thrilled that music educators throughout the north-central area are recognizing the accomplishments of  West Las Vegas High School’s music programs.

“It’s almost like an Oscar nomination, and it is an honor to see that others see that we care for our music programs. I see how it affects students in a very positive way. So even though we are looking at budget cuts throughout the state, I have no intention whatsoever to recommend any budget cuts. And I know our superintendent (Jim Abreu) feels the same.”

Parson and his wife Marie are both graduates of West High School. She went on to law school and works at the district attorney’s office in Las Vegas. Their daughter, Geniel, also a West alumnus, is graduating this year with a double major in chemistry and biology. Son Stephen, a West graduate, is attending Highlands, studying environmental geology, and youngest son Spencer is a junior at West. 

“Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would be the principal at the school I graduated from. I’m just very proud, it thrills me,” Parson said.

Superintendent Jim Abreu and West Las Vegas board president Christine Ludi praised Arellanes and Parson on their nominations.

“Mr. Arellanes is a great choir director and the results of his hard work are there for all to see and hear. He is a professional, and this is a richly deserved nomination. Mr. Parson has developed a way of working with the kids and running a high school that is very progressive and extraordinary,” Abreu said.

“What can I say about Mr. Arellanes? Speaking on behalf of all board members, we believe he is a very dedicated teacher who works diligently with his choir,” Ludi said. “He has brought home two state championships, along with respect for our music program from around the state. I just think the world of Arnell, and the board feels the same. Gene is an exceptional principal and administrator and has a very good rapport with the kids and has the best interest of West Las Vegas in his heart.”