High school department of Pitt State grads earns state award

A high school department whose teachers are all Pitt State grads has won the Kansas High School Activities Association “School of Excellence” Award.  

The award was given last week to Pittsburg High School’s Performing Arts program in an assembly for the approximately 200 students who participate in debate/forensics, instrumental music, theater, and vocal music. 

The teachers are: 

  • Julie Laflen (‘08, BS in Communication Education, ‘10 MS in Secondary Education) who teaches debate and forensics 
  • Cooper Neil (‘10, BS in Music Education), who teaches marching band, wind ensemble, jazz band, and orchestra 
  • Chuck Boyles (‘95, BA in Communication), who teaches stagecraft and is the technical director for theater
  • Susan Laushman (‘93, MA in Music/Piano Performance, ‘95 Music Education Certification), who teaches choir and directs the Multigenerational Chorus 
  • Caitie Almond (‘14 BS in Communication Education, ‘16 MA in Communication), who teaches theater and directs the school plays 
  • Jason Huffman (‘03, BS in General Studies, ‘14 ), who taught theater in 2020-21 


All were active in performing arts activities themselves while students at Pitt State. The late Greg Shaw, who taught theater at PHS for many years until his battle with cancer began in late 2019, also was a Pitt State graduate.

The department will be recognized publicly with a plaque from KSHSAA at halftime of the PHS Homecoming football game at Hutchinson Field on Oct. 1. 

PHS outside

The selection committee that chose PHS as a School of Excellence represented Kansas Music Educators Association, Kan­sas Speech Communication Association, and the Kansas Thespians. Leaders from those associations, along with the KSHSAA staff, collaborated to discuss numerous high schools that scored exceptionally high in debate, speech, music, and theater during the 2020-21 school year. 
The committee and KSHSAA chose one winner, five finalists, and 30 commended schools from across the state.