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Billy Joel pledges $1M to save Long Island High School for the Arts

Billy Joel is set to lend his support

Billy Joel is set to lend his support to keep Long Island High School for the Arts open. Credit: Myrna Suarez

Billy Joel will pledge $1 million from his foundation to help save the Long Island High School for the Arts, which school officials have said is facing closure because of dwindling enrollment and falling tuition revenue.

The rock and roll star will direct The Joel Foundation to donate the money to an organization supporting the arts school if Nassau BOCES pledges to keep it open for three years, his spokeswoman said Thursday.

The school, established in 1973, shares its Syosset campus with the Doshi STEM Institute, which opened in 2013. The total enrollment in both schools is 138 students — less than half of the complex’s 300-student capacity. Ninety-two students, mostly juniors and seniors, currently are in the arts school, Nassau BOCES officials said Thursday.

District officials said the arts school alone has a deficit of about $400,000 for the current academic year. Nassau BOCES had considered canceling both programs in March, but agreed to extend them at least one more school year in response to families’ pleas.

The pledge from Joel, 66, a native of Hicksville, followed up on his November letter to Nassau BOCES trustees, urging them not to close the Island’s only public high school arts program.

“I went to public school on Long Island and I am grateful for the music program and my music teachers for helping provide me the tools for which I have based my career,” the singer wrote then. “I understand that closing this school does not mean the end of the music and arts programs on Long Island, but it does indicate our willingness to abandon a school that has been there for 40 years.”

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Joel also plans to be front-and-center at a big meeting Feb. 8 with students, aimed at helping to raise the school’s enrollment.

Nassau BOCES officials were thrilled Thursday with the news — both for the monetary contribution and the hope that Joel’s participation will raise awareness and boost enrollment.

“We are delighted to be in a partnership and collaboration with Billy Joel and his people, and they have been outstanding,” Nassau BOCES Superintendent Robert Dillon said.

“Money is always good, but we need enrollment,” Dillon said. “We are hoping that with Billy’s participation in our event, that prospective students within all districts in Nassau County and . . . from Suffolk continue enrolling at LIHSA.”

The “Afternoon of Questions & Answers . . . And a Little Music” will be held in the Hillwood Recital Hall at Tilles Center for the Performing Arts at LIU Post in Brookville. The invitation-only event will include students from the arts school and the university, as well as prospective students and school superintendents from districts across the Island.

Joel has presented such sessions — which he calls “master classes” — to music students for years, explaining to them what music has meant to him, how his creative process works and also performing some of his biggest hits and best-loved songs.

Generally, the classes have been open to students at the college level. However, Joel hopes this event will encourage students already in the Long Island High School for the Arts program and others who may be interested in joining.

Jen Boudin, of Melville, co-founder of the LIHSA and Doshi STEM Institute Parents Association, called Joel’s dedication to the arts school “completely overwhelming.” Her daughter, Emma, is in the 10th grade and is enrolled in the art program at the Syosset campus.

“He is a remarkable man of his word, whose call to action will have a grand positive impact on the lives and futures of every student on Long Island trying to pursue their passion and follow their dreams,” she said.

Roger Tilles of Great Neck, who represents Long Island on the state Board of Regents and is a strong supporter of the school, is slated to introduce Joel at the February event.

“I am so happy that he is doing this; it is much more than his million dollars,” Tilles said. “And I know he wants to bring attention to it and we need to get recognition.”

Tilles also said that schools have had a hard time maintaining quality arts programs, especially while dealing with the state-imposed tax cap.

“Private funding is really important, and I have been trying to fundraise with them over the last couple of years. That is why Billy Joel is so essential and necessary in keeping this school open,” Tilles said.

The arts school and STEM institute are mostly funded by tuition paid by local districts whose students take classes part- or full-time. Both accept students from Nassau and Suffolk counties.

The arts school, for aspiring actors, artists and musicians, provides professional training for careers that include screenwriting, theater production, jazz performance and animation graphics. It has seen enrollment drop from 197 during the 2008-09 academic year to 100 in the 2014-15 school year, and 92 this school year.

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