ANDOVER — Mark Mercer ran around the auditorium during a rehearsal on a recent afternoon making sure all his students were ready for the high school's pops concert the next night.
"I want to see big movements," Mercer said, to a group of four students performing the hit song "Forget You" by Cee Lo Green. "And sing right into those microphones."
For many of the students, the concert last Friday night which featured more than 30 songs by various groups, marked the end of a successful year for the high school's vocal groups. Mercer has been credited with increasing choir participation at the school over the past two years.
But in the weeks leading up to the concert, many students were afraid they would lose Mercer next year because of budget cuts.
Mercer's position was to be reduced by 20 percent under the School Department's proposed fiscal 2012 budget. While he would still have a job in Andover, the reduction meant Mercer would only be working at the middle and elementary schools, School Superintendent Marinel McGrath said during a public hearing in March on the budget.
The news didn't sit well with the high school students and they started a Facebook page called "Save Mercer" and held after-school rallies near the school holding signs to reinforce their support. They also showed up to School Committee meetings telling members and the school administration just how much Mercer means to them.
But as the School Committee continued deliberations on the budget throughout March and April, the retirement of another teacher allowed them to restore Mercer's position to full-time.
"(The students) efforts were fruitful in that they helped shed light on the performing arts staffing and how there is a need to retain and grow in that area," School Committee chairwoman Annie Gilbert said.
Junior Shannon Watts, co-president of the show choir, said it means everything that Mercer will be staying on full-time and will be continuing his role at the high school.
"He leads us and definitely inspires us, he pushes us especially with the show choir because it was so new," Watts said. "We had to learn so much, so quickly."
The 37-member show choir, named "From Start to Finish," is in its first year at the school and has been proven to be very popular — over 70 students auditioned for a spot in the group. Watts, along with co-president Katya Sorterup-Kaminski, a sophomore, worked hard to make sure the startup choir was a success after the first attempt to start it the year before failed, they said.
Popularized by the Fox comedy/drama television show "Glee," show choirs dance and move around stage as they sing popular, jazz or show tunes, usually wearing costumes or coordinated outfits. Especially popular in the Midwest — "Glee" is set in Ohio — high school show choirs can compete in regional and national competitions.
In March, the show choir won the varsity grand champion award at the New England Show Choir Classic.
Sorterup-Kaminski said show choir provides an after-school activity for those not involved with sports.
"It is a great feeling to say I am in show choir," she said. "Last year, (show choir) didn't even exist and to win that award was the best feeling in the world."
She said with all the momentum of the choir program at the school, students were caught off guard by proposal to cut Mercer's position. Many students thought cutting Mercer from the high school would be devastating to the program.
"Immediately, I started crying. It broke my heart," Sorterup-Kaminski said. "(Mercer) changed the music program forever."
Mercer was hired at the start of the 2009-2010 school year as vocal music director of AHS and Andover's three middle schools. He travels between the four schools to teach and conduct a total of 10 choirs.
At the high school, he teaches concert choir during the school days and directs the chamber choir and show choir after school.
Next year, there will be two show choirs at the school because of its popularity. About 200 students are expected to audition in the coming weeks.