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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