Band director becomes Grammy Music Educator semifinalist

Jason Smith

COVINGTON – Just three weeks after becoming the Newton County Teacher of the Year, Jason Smith has garnered another accolade – this one at a national level.

The Newton High School band director is a semifinalist for the 2017 Grammy Music Educator award.

The award recognizes teachers from kindergarten through college, in public and private institutions, for their significant contribution to the field of education and for demonstrating a commitment to maintaining music education in schools. The award is sponsored by the Recording Academy and the Grammy Foundation.

“Words cannot describe the feeling I have right now,” Smith said. “I’m blessed beyond belief.”

Smith said he never imagined being able to accomplish so much and feels grateful and humbled by the recognition.

More than 3,300 nominations were initially received from all across the country; 290 educators were selected as quarterfinalists in May. Smith is one of 25 music teachers chosen as semifinalists.

The top 10 contenders will be announced in December. The winner will be chosen from that lot and recognized during the 2017 Grammy Week in February as the fourth recipient of the annual prize.

He or she will be flown to Los Angeles to attend the 59th Grammy Awards and other ceremonies organized by the Grammy Foundation throughout the week. A $10,000 honorarium will also be presented to the winner for his or her “remarkable impact on students’ lives.”

Francene Breakfield, the 12th-grade counselor at Newton High School, nominated Smith for the award. Two years ago, Breakfield had seen an advertisement about the award in a magazine and immediately thought of recommending him. The deadline for nominations had already passed then, so she sent in the submission this year.

“The students love him, and I have much respect for what he does for our students,” Breakfield said.

Breakfield has seen Smith go above and beyond as a teacher, she added. He spends countless hours after school teaching and coaching his music students, supports the growth of the marching band, and provides exposure to students through field trips and summer programs. Additionally, he also assists students with the Governor’s Honor Program and other scholarships.

“I see what he does behind the scenes to help our 10th and 11th graders prepare for GHP and what he does to help our seniors get their music portfolios together for potential colleges and creating new opportunities for our kids such as Jazz Band, All-State Band, etc.,” she said.

“I am so excited for him and proud of him as well.”

The Recording Academy and the Grammy Foundation will also provide the nine other top finalists with $1,000 prizes, and their schools will receive matching grants. For the first time in the award’s history, the 15 other semifinalists will also receive $500, and so will their schools.

“This award would not only be for me, but for Newton High School and our community,” Smith said.

Smith joined Newton High as a faculty member in 2009. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music education from Hampton University.

His musical journey was inspired by musicians in his extended family and those he saw in his hometown of New Orleans.

Smith said that music has always been his first love and having the opportunity to share his knowledge and passion with others is something he cherishes.

“What makes my job even more rewarding is to know that when students move on past Newton High School, they take with them the lessons they’ve learned in the band program,” he said.

Smith is one of 25 music educators from 25 cities across 16 states to be selected for the prestigious title.

“I want him to go all the way to LA for the Grammys,” Breakfield said. “Not just for the trophy and recognition, which he so deserves, but also for the monies he will be able to pour into the NHS Sound Factory Band.”

The Grammy Awards will be held on Feb. 12.

Nominations and applications for the 2018 Music Educator Award are now available at The award is open to all full-time music teachers in the U.S. Nominations can be made by anyone free of charge.

A native of Kathmandu, Nepal, Rimal graduated from Troy University in 2016 with degrees in journalism and political science. She has since worked for the Rockdale/Newton Citizen newspapers primarily covering education.

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