EAST COBB STAFF
Ashley Culley, Director & Cello
Ashley Culley is currently the Orchestra Director at Dodgen Middle School in Cobb County. Before coming to Dodgen, she started the orchestra program at Kell High School in Cobb County. She has also worked in at Milton High School, Northwestern Middle School and several elementary schools in Fulton County. Mrs. Culley received her Bachelors of Music Education with performance certificate from the University of South Carolina. She earned her Masters of Music in Cello Performance and Masters of Arts in String Pedagogy from The Ohio State University. Mrs.Culley lives in Marietta with her husband, David, and daughters Emily and Amber.
Corie Benton, Academy & Viola
Corie Benton is the Orchestra Director at Pope High School in Cobb County, Georgia. Mrs. Benton is a graduate of Loyola University New Orleans, where she received her Bachelors Degree in Music Education. She began her teaching career as an Orchestra Director in Plano, Texas, at H. Wayne Hendrick Middle School. While in Plano, her orchestras received superior ratings at the annual University Interscholastic League (the equivalent to Large Group Performance Evaluation).
After moving to Georgia, she worked in Cobb, Clayton, and DeKalb counties. Throughout her tenure as a music educator, Mrs. Benton has been very active in the music community. She has presented a workshop at Georgia Music Educators Association In-Service (2013); performed at GMEA In-Service twice and had students perform in 2015. Mrs. Benton is a regularly requested Adjudicator at workshops, clinics, Honor Orchestras and LGPE’s in Fulton, Cobb, Clayton, Henry, Fayette and Gwinett counties. She is a member of MENC, GMEA and the President of the Georgia chapter of ASTA. Under her direction, the orchestra programs increased in size, received superior ratings yearly, and one of her schools became semifinalist for the GRAMMY foundation.
She is also an active freelance musician in the Atlanta metro area. When not teaching, she designs jewelry for her jewelry company, Me and My Sweetpea. Although Mrs. Benton loves music, her greatest love is her family. She is married to Robert Benton and has two sons, Cameron and William.
Jacob Bitinas, Double Bass
Mr. Jacob Bitinas currently the assistant orchestra director at Dickerson Middle School in Marietta, GA. Every day, Mr. Bitinas provides instruction to over 500 orchestra students in sixth through eighth grade. These students make up six heterogeneous orchestra classes with up to 92 students in a single class. At the core of Mr. Bitinas’ philosophy of music education is to develop a deep appreciation for music and to expose each student to music history in an engaging way that does not stifle curiosity. Early music research and performance is a fundamental part of Mr. Bitinas’ daily life. In his time as a public school educator, Mr. Bitinas has had the opportunity to present workshops at Columbus State University, The University of Alabama, and the Alabama Music Educators Association on topics related to early music, double bass playing, and music history education.
As an active performer, Jacob Bitinas can be heard playing double bass and viola da gamba on concerts and recitals of early and modern music throughout the southeast. He has performed with New Trinity Baroque, the North Carolina Baroque Orchestra, Ritornello Baroque Ensemble, and as a soloist for the Brasstown Concert Association. His enthusiasm for modern music written for early instruments extends beyond just performance. As a composer, Jacob Bitinas has been recognized by the Viola da Gamba Society of America as one of the three winners of the 2017 International Leo M. Traynor Composition Competition for new music written for viols. His piece, "Eidolon No. 3", was premiered at the VdGSA Conclave in 2017 and is published by the Viola da Gamba Society.
Susan Brown, Violin
Susan Brown served as orchestra director at Hightower Trail Middle School from 1993 until her retirement in 2014. She held previous positions in the New Hanover County School District (Wilmington, NC) and the Cobb County’s Lassiter High School and Mabry Middle School. Mrs. Brown attended East Carolina University (BME) and Georgia State University (MM). She currently holds memberships in the American String Teachers’ Association (ASTA) Georgia Music Educators’ Association (GMEA) Georgia Home Education Associationand is on staff with the Cobb County Upbeat! Strings Camp.
Mrs. Brown helped establish the Cobb County Sixth Grade String Jamboree and a county-wide middle school honor orchestra. She also served on the ASTA Editorial Committee and as GMEA District 12 Orchestra Chair and Organizer for the GA All State Middle School Orchestra.
While under Mrs. Brown’s direction, the Hightower Trail Orchestra performed at the GMEA In-Service Conference in 2003 and 2013. In 2004, the orchestra was invited to perform at the prestigious Midwest International Band and Orchestra Conference in Chicago. Mrs. Brown has also blended alternative styles with the traditional curriculum, forming the student fiddle group Strings unCAGED and hosting musicians such as Barrage, Mark Wood, von Grey and Rushad Eggleston. The orchestras consistently earned superior ratings at GMEA Large Group Performance Evaluations and students participate annually in Solo and Ensemble Evaluation, Cobb County Honor Orchestra, and the GA All-State Orchestra.
Sara Grimes, Cello
Sara Grimes is in her sixth year as Assistant Director of Orchestras at Walton High School in Marietta, Georgia. As a graduate of Walton, Mrs. Grimes is proud to be teaching at her alma mater. Mrs. Grimes’ prior teaching experiences include Barber Middle School in Cobb County and West Laboratory Elementary in Miami-Dade County, Florida. Additionally, she was the graduate teaching assistant at the University of Miami and taught undergraduate string techniques
Mrs. Grimes holds a Bachelor of Music in Music Education from the University of South Carolina and Master of Music in Music Education from the University of Miami with cello as her primary instrument. She presented a session at the Florida Music Educators Association Conference in 2009, and presided over sessions at American String Teacher Association conferences in 2008 and 2009. Her thesis research, “Assessment Practices of String Teachers” won first prize at the University of Miami Research Symposium. Mrs. Grimes is a member of MENC, GMEA, ASTA, Pi Kappa Lambda, and has been recognized as a Presser Scholar.
Mrs. Grimes and her husband, William, a middle school band director, live in Marietta, Georgia with their toddler, Charlie. In her free time, she enjoys reading and golfing.
Perry Holbrook, Academy & Double Bass
Dr. Perry Holbrook is currently the Director of Orchestras and Advanced Placement Music Theory at Walton High School, a position he has held since 2001. Perry Holbrook holds a Doctorate of Musical Arts degree from the University of Minnesota, a Masters of Music degree from Arizona State University, and a Bachelor of Music degree from Wichita State University.
His groups have performed at The Midwest Clinic, the ASTA National Conference and the Georgia Music Educators Association In-Service Conference. Dr. Holbrook’s groups have also traveled and performed internationally, participating in three European concert tours. Dr. Holbrook is also active as a guest conductor. Summer conducting engagements have included the Sewanee Summer Music Festival and the Orchestra America Summer Symposium. He has guest conducted honor groups in Nevada, Indiana, Texas, South Carolina, and Georgia. Dr. Holbrook has presented clinics at the Midwest Clinic the ASTA National Conference, the Georgia Music Educators Convention, and the Texas Music Educators Convention.
Tricia Hardy, Viola
Tricia Hardy holds a bachelor’s degree in music education from the University of Florida and a master’s degree in Educational Policy and Leadership from The Ohio State University. Currently, she serves as the orchestra director at Dickerson Middle School in Marietta, Georgia. Previously, she taught at Davis Middle School in Dublin, Ohio. In her five years at Davis, Ms. Hardy has more than doubled the size of the orchestra to 250 students and founded the alternative styles “Fiddle Fusion” ensemble.
Ms. Hardy directed orchestras in the Orange County Public Schools (Orlando, FL) and spent four years teaching orchestra and general music at Rochelle School of the Arts, a K-8 arts magnet school, in Lakeland, Florida. At Rochelle she established the “Swinging Strings” and led their performance at the 2006 Florida Music Educators Association Conference. She was also named Rochelle’s “Arts Teacher of the Year” in 2006 and served as a clinician and certified adjudicator throughout the state of Florida.
Ms. Hardy has presented educational clinics at several national conferences of the American String Teachers Association (ASTA). Her leadership roles include serving as state secretary and president-elect for the ASTA Florida chapter and on the Davis Middle School Leadership Team. Ms. Hardy is a member of the GMEA, ASTA, NAfME, and the University of Florida Alumni Association.
Michael Tompkins, cello
Michael Tompkins is the Orchestra Director at Hightower Trail Middle School and is currently in his 13th year of teaching orchestra. Prior to teaching at Hightower Trail, Mr. Tompkins taught for eleven years at Campbell Middle School. While at Campbell, the orchestra program more than doubled in size and regularly performed in the community. Under Mr. Tompkins’ direction, the 7th and 8th grade orchestras consistently received excellent and superior ratings at GMEA Large Group Performance Evaluation.
Mr. Tompkins received his Bachelor of Science in Music degree from Southern Adventist University (2000), where he studied cello under Dr. James Stroud. At Southern, Mr. Tompkins served as Principal Cellist of the University Orchestra, which toured Ireland during the summer of 1998. He earned his Master of Music Education degree from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (2002), where he studied under Dr. Wesley Baldwin. As a graduate intern, he represented the UT School of Music at the Music Educators National Conference (2002).
As a cellist, Mr. Tompkins has performed with several community and church orchestras. He has worked with numerous string camps including the Shiloh String workshop, which he founded and directed in 2007. Mr. Tompkins is also an accomplished church keyboardist, specializing in gospel music. He is currently a pianist at Shiloh SDA Church and Northeast Community Church in Norcross, GA.