|Highlands High Principal and KMEA Administrator of the Year Matthew Bertasso|
by Robin Gee, city council beat editor
Matt Bertasso, principal of Highlands High School, has been named Administrator of the Year by the Kentucky Music Educators Association (KMEA) for 2020-2021.
Music has been a big part of Bertasso’s life and career. A Fort Thomas native and Highlands grad, he played trombone and served as the drum major of the school’s marching band. Later, he continued to study music, earning a bachelor’s in music education from Brigham Young University and a master’s degree in school administration and supervision from Indiana State University. He spent his early career as a music teacher in Indiana.
"I am honored that our music teachers would nominate me for this position. It is a pleasure to work with each of them. This year has been particularly difficult and yet the HHS teachers are still finding ways to hold concerts, rehearsals and continue to teach music. My music experience started in 6th grade at Johnson Elementary. My first leadership opportunity was as a drum major of the Highlands Marching Band. It is wonderful to give back to the program that got me started in music and leadership," he said.
In her nomination of Bertasso for the award, Fort Thomas Independent Schools Superintendent Dr. Karen Cheser wrote, "Matt has been a supporter of music instruction his entire career, as a music educator himself, as well as a principal. The music program at Highlands High School is exceptional, and Matt has a large part in this success."
She added, "He ensures that all programs: band, marching band, jazz band, several strings programs, choral programs and even audio engineering are treated as important as any other academic or athletic program at Highlands. This is not always the case at other high schools."
Supporter and booster of Highlands music program
Bertasso came to Highlands in 2018 and has shown strong support for the music program from the start.
"During his short time at Highlands, Matt has created an advanced placement band, choir, and strings’ course (the first-ever advanced performance course for our musicians!). This year, Matt initiated the idea of forming a full orchestra for the student body. String and band students will have the opportunity to perform advanced orchestral literature during the school day, under the direction of Mr. Bertasso," said Lori Duncan, Highlands band director, who also sent in a nomination on his behalf.
She noted that, with his support, the number of students in band, choir and strings has grown and interest at the middle school level has developed into the largest number of upcoming student musicians in the school’s history.
Bertasso developed and executed a plan to redesign the band room to accommodate and allow students to perform in a safe, productive setting. "The band room was remodeled and measures were put in place to ensure that all equipment could be moved safely (in-and-out) of the room for marching band rehearsals and concerts. Many of these ideas and plans were initiated by Matt with support from our school board," Duncan said.
Dr. Cheser noted that the principal has made special requests for funding from the district in support of music programs, special events and additional needs. And, she says, he’s an enthusiastic advocate.
"Matt not only supports the music programs from outside the programs, he also supports them through involvement. He attends marching band competitions, works with the band during games, and helps facilitate choral and strings performances. He even attended the band and jazz band trip to New York City, driving a truck on the weekend, when the band was in a pinch and had no way to get all of their instruments there. I know, as a mother of a jazz band musician on that trip, that it was very inspiring for the principal to be there, even doing some guest conducting. Again, I know of no other principal who would support the school’s music program at a level such as that," she said.
The KMEA has been in existence since 1907 with the goal of advocating on behalf of and providing education about music and music educators. For more information on KMEA, visit KMEA.org.