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Long Island High School for the Arts approved for career and tech programs

Students and faculty talk last week about how special the Long Island High School for the Arts is to them. Credit: Barry Sloan

The Long Island High School for the Arts has been approved by the state Education Department to offer career and technical education programs, a designation administrators at the Syosset-based school say will help boost enrollment and lead to a more secure future.

This designation will enable the Nassau BOCES school, which now enrolls 127 students and draws from both Nassau and Suffolk counties, to offer three technical pathways for students: Performing Arts, Visual and Media Arts, and Production and Managerial Arts.

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. Arts school educators could handle up to 300 students, with a goal to enroll at least 200 to break even.

The arts school was "listed as a gifted and talented school, so students who wanted to come here, it was up to their school to allow them to. There was no requirement," Principal Chris Bleecker said. "We think this will just level the playing field."

The school, the only of its kind on Long Island, has had longtime support from singer-songwriter Billy Joel, who donated $1 million from his nonprofit foundation in 2016 to the school when it was in danger of closing. In addition, a building at the school has been named for Joel's mother, Rosalind Joel.

"When we have an open house, we have hundreds of students who want to come here and lots of parents who want to choose this as an option for their children," Bleecker said.

Founded in 1973, enrollment has remained a challenge. 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 arts subjects, from dance to special effects makeup. Students must audition or show a portfolio of work to be accepted.

Jaiden Anthony, 17, a senior at MacArthur High School in Levittown, is a dance major with plans to study dance after high school. He's in his second year at the school and has participated in master-level class with dancers from the American Ballet Theatre who have partnered with the school this year.

"For me, being an artist having a place that I can go during the school day ... to dance and practice what I love throughout the day is an awesome experience," he said. "They offer so many different curriculums and different artistic abilities that you can train in."

Amanda Blitz, 17, a senior at Harborfields High School in Greenlawn, is in her first year. She is in the tech theater and special effects department, and is planning a career in stage management. On a recent school day, she was in a class learning how to construct and model realistic-looking scars.

"This is something that I do already at my home school, but it is not something that I am taught how to do," she said, adding that she had studied online videos to learn stage techniques before attending the school but now benefits from professional instruction.

Nassau County BOCES Superintendent Robert Dillon said he has called meetings with superintendents from both counties to inform them of the change and programs available at the school. Nassau BOCES operates two other Career Tech programs: the 1,518-student Joseph M. Barry Career & Technical Education Center in Westbury, which offers programs including carpentry and cosmetology, and the Gerald R. Claps Career & Technical Center in Levittown, which has 278 students and offers programs such as automotive technology and culinary arts.

The new technical pathways at the arts school can prepare students either for college or careers after high school, Dillon said, adding the program also benefits from its proximity to the arts in New York City. Base tuition that districts pay to send students to the Long Island High School for the Arts is $15,125 per pupil, but reductions are available for districts sending more than one student.

"This program should be viewed no differently than those who want to go to Barry Tech or GC Tech," Dillon said. "It's comparable to any other workforce development program we have."

The programs at the school have been patterned after a similar curriculum in California that specializes in entertainment and media design, Bleecker said. 

Roger Tilles, Long Island's representative on the Board of Regents, has been a longtime supporter of the arts for public school students.

"The arts should be seen on Long Island ... as a career," he said. "Schools have been hesitant for economic reasons, mostly, to send kids to LHSA because they look at it as somewhat as a frill and that the arts are not something that is part of the core of what a kid has to learn, and I disagree with that and the Regents disagree with that."

Under the new designation, students will complete 54 work-based learning hours through partnerships with area arts organizations. These organizations provide artistic residencies for students to work side-by-side with an artist. They vary in length from 12 weeks to the full school year and culminate with the creation of a student performance or product.

Some of the school’s partner organizations include the American Ballet Theatre, The Billy Joel Foundation, Exploring the Arts and the Roundabout Theatre Company.

"Students get a sense of what the real day-to-day work is like in artistic areas," Bleecker said. "This is an acknowledgment that the arts are not only a passion or hobby but a real trajectory for students."

Approval from the State Education Department transforms the whole Long Island High School for the Arts campus in Syosset into a Career and Technical Education program in the arts with three distinct pathways:

• Performing Arts (dance, music and theater)

• Visual and Media Arts (Fine art, digital media and film)

• Production and Managerial Arts

After a successful completion of a 2-year program at LIHSA, students would graduate with technical endorsed diplomas in one of the three programs.

In the past few years, 100% of the student body has gone on to post-secondary programs to continue their education.

Base tuition is $15,125 for 20/21. However, reduced tuitions are available when districts send more students than their base – which is essentially a three-year average, adjusted for recent enrollment trends. New districts get the discount starting with their second student.

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