Pleasanton Weekly

Column - October 25, 2013

Remembering JoAnn Koobatian

by Jeb Bing

The Foothill High School campus is a sea of pink this week as students, faculty and parents pay tribute to the school's talented, fun-loving and much admired choir director JoAnn Koobatian, who died last Friday. And the tributes are continuing. The three choirs she taught will sing several of her favorite songs tonight at half-time during the football game between the Foothill Falcons and Granada High. The stadium, much like the rest of the campus, will be decorated in pink, which was her favorite color, with students wearing embroidered pink wrist bands hundreds of them have made this week. Next Saturday, Nov. 2, the 2013 Falcon Royale at the Pleasanton Hilton Hotel is being dedicated to her as parents hold their annual fundraiser, this year marking the 40th anniversary of the opening of Foothill High.

Ms. Koobatian, who was 46, will be remembered Monday at private services at Trinity Lutheran Church by her family, including her husband Richard and their 12-year-old daughter Amanda, who is in 6th grade at Harvest Park Middle School. Then a public memorial will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 9 at Valley Community Church on Del Valle Parkway in Pleasanton. Again, those participating are encouraged to wear pink.

She majored in music at San Jose State and has made it her career ever since. A soprano, she sang with a quartet for many years, including in concerts at the Dean Lesher Center, before joining Foothill as a drama teacher in 1996. Three choirs she taught are now Concert, Chamber and Women's. She also spent extra time at lunch and after school working with students who couldn't fit choir into their schedules, but wanted to sing, and sing better.

Valerie Rossman, the school's visual and performing arts department chair, remembers that from the start, Ms. Koobatian was a star. "I could see right away that she was a completely dedicated, skilled teacher who knew her subject like no one else," Rossman said. "She had high expectations for her students and just never gave up on them. She always challenged them to do their best and they really appreciated her for it."

Along the way, Ms. Koobatian was honored to receive the 2nd annual Juanita Haugen "Women Making a Difference" award for education from the California Women Lead organization and a Crystal Apple award, and in 2011 was named "Teacher of the Year" in the Pleasanton school district. Even after being diagnosed with a rare form of thymic cancer in 2005, she continued teaching through chemotherapy and radiation treatments which eventually damaged her voice. Even though she couldn't sing along with them, she listened to students' voices and knew immediately just what parts they should have in her choirs. Working with Mark Aubel, music and choir director at Amador Valley High School, she was part of a team that produced 18 musicals featuring students from Pleasanton elementary, middle and high schools.

Aubel was on the Foothill campus this week to help Rossman and Foothill's counselors meet with grieving students. He said that what made JoAnn Koobatian special "was that not only did she produce good musicians and good choirs, but she produced good people as well." Aubel, who is planning the Nov. 9 "celebration of life" service, is also coaching Foothill band director Josh Butterfield, who is taking over the choir's leadership position temporarily at Foothill. Music, band and choir directors at Pleasanton schools are a close-knit community, Rossman said. "They're grieving, too."

In a message to staff and teachers last Sunday, newly-hired Foothill principal Jason Krolikowski wrote: "I only knew JoAnn a short while, but her reputation grew with each day since I arrived at Foothill. Each story I heard about JoAnn was better than the previous one. I know she will never be forgotten at Foothill High School and in the Pleasanton school district."

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