When the Long Island High School for the Arts was in danger of closing six years ago, it was the Piano Man himself who helped — by donating $1 million from the Billy Joel Foundation.
Joel, the Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter, and his foundation recently pledged an additional $1.5 million to the program. The specialized school in Syosset trains future performers and those who work behind the scenes in the arts as part of Nassau County BOCES.
When plans are finalized, funding from Joel's foundation will be disbursed over several years and used on projects mutually agreed upon by the foundation and Nassau BOCES, school officials said.
The entertainer and his foundation "have worked with us in developing the program and with ideas for improving the program," said Bob Dillon, district superintendent for Nassau BOCES.
What to know
The Long Island High School for the Arts was in danger of closing six years ago, then received a donation of $1 million from the Billy Joel Foundation.
Joel, the Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter originally from Hicksville, recently pledged to give another $1.5 million to the program.
The specialized school in Syosset trains future performers and those who work behind the scenes in the arts as part of Nassau County BOCES.
Joel, who grew up in Hicksville, has been a longtime advocate of the arts school and overall supporter of music education, often crediting the Hicksville High School music program for helping him launch his blockbuster career.
The Long Island High School for the Arts, founded in 1973, has seen a bump in enrollment in recent years, and is on track to welcome about 300 students next fall, one of its largest classes ever. About 200 are currently enrolled.
"We are incredibly proud of LIHSA's momentum and positive impact on the next generation of artists from Long Island," Joel and his wife, Alexis, said in a statement. "The vision of Nassau BOCES and the LIHSA team to develop a creative [Career and Technical Education] curriculum inspired us to continue our support … ."
The school, starting this coming fall, will launch a Multimedia Journalism program, and move its Game Design, Audio Production and Video Production and Digital Film Making programs from the Barry Career & Technical Education Center in Westbury to the Syosset site. That likely should push enrollment to about 300 students, BOCES said.
In 2016, when in danger of closing, the school enrolled 138 students.
"The transformation is the result of the leadership of the [arts school] building," Dillon said. "They have ratcheted up the curricula — it is very rigorous, and it is the perfect launching pad for young kids who really want to pursue the arts."
The school, the only one of its kind on Long Island, has working relationships with many companies and professional organizations, including the American Ballet Theatre, the Roundabout Theatre Co. and the DreamWorks Recording Studio. Graduates have gone on to work on Broadway and in nationally recognized arts organizations.
Daniella Gomez, 17, a junior at East Meadow High School who has a background in competitive dance, is studying ballet under the direction of Stephen Campanella, one of the resident instructors from the American Ballet Theatre. Gomez wants to become a dance instructor.
"Having professional staff has been great for me," Gomez said, adding she has learned several different styles of dance. "I'm very grateful."
About two years ago, the school won approval from the state Education Department to offer Career and Technical Education programs. Becoming a tech school — similar to schools that offer training in trades such as plumbing or carpentry — means districts that do not have a technical program cannot deny a student’s request to attend the arts school.
Previously, the arts school was listed as a gifted and talented school, giving districts the discretion to send students. Students can follow several technical pathways at the school, including Performing Arts, Visual and Media Arts, and Production & Managerial Arts.
The school serves mostly juniors and seniors, though it can accept some younger students. Students typically attend the school for two years, but can go there for a longer time period. They spend half the day in classes taking courses in a variety of subjects, from dance to special effects makeup. Students must audition or show a portfolio of work to be accepted.
Base tuition that districts pay to send students to the school is $15,382 per pupil, but reductions are available for districts sending more than one student.
Currently, parents still need school district permission for their children to apply to attend a BOCES program. Nassau BOCES officials are supporting proposed state legislation that would give parents the right to directly enroll their kids in BOCES’ Career and Technical Education programs, if they are admitted. Dillon said that would lead to greater enrollment growth.