According to a new petition directed at NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina, admittance to LaGuardia High School has been undergoing a serious and damaging shift under the care of principal Dr. Lisa Mars.
Known as “the Fame school” after the 1980 film, LaGuardia was established as a high school for the arts in 1936. In 1972, it became one of the four highly competitive specialized NYC public schools (along with Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech) supported by the Hecht-Calandra Act. The Act allows LaGuardia to base admittance off of “competitive examinations in music and/or the arts in addition to presenting evidence of satisfactory achievement.” Students who gain entry study as artists, dancers, vocalists, actors, and musicians, in addition to their other academic requirements.
Dr. Mars has been active principal since 2013, though it may be that problems have began before she took the helm, with the pressure on schools across the country to meet test score requirements. The petition on Change.org currently has over 5,000 signatures, and describes how the environment at the school has allegedly been shifting as Dr. Mars bases her admittance on academic record rather than auditions:
“...Under Dr. Mars’ leadership, applicants who do not have at least a grade of 80 in every core academic subject are rejected, regardless of their audition. In fact, the academic score counts for 40% of the admission (vs. 14% for talent). Effectively, students who score low on the audition and high on academics are the ones being admitted. This violates Hecht-Calandra and the 80-year-old mission of the school.”
DNA Info reports that former staffers say prior to Dr. Mars appointment, auditions counted for as much as 70 percent of the admissions decision. In addition to bemoaning the lack of artistic passion found in today’s crop of high schoolers, many staffers see the shift as a way to shut out kids who may not have stellar grades as middle schoolers, yet could find direction in the institution’s hallowed halls.
One anonymous ex-staff member says, “Kids who were not academically-minded rose to the occasion with the quality teachers and the environment...It’s the responsibility with teachers and administrators to get the kids who are not there yet and to get them there, and I think that LaGuardia always did that. It was an amazing place.”
There has also supposedly been an exodus of qualified arts teachers, with the petition stating that 18 percent of teachers and staff have left the school in the last year alone. Replacements have not necessarily been educated in the arts, with the Assistant Principal of Art being replaced by a middle-school English teacher, as an example.
Petition signers have left heartfelt messages about their experiences at LaGuardia, explaining how attending a specialized school based on their talent changed the direction of their lives. An alumni named Denos Vourderis writes:
There are plenty of specialized schools for academics. LaGuardia is special, and needs to remain such. To me, attendance and and good grades can often be gained with privilege. Talent knows no social class or ethnicity. Not everything in this world is about academic smarts, tutors or test prep. What made me who I am, was the passion that I learned from this amazing place. I’m an engineer now, but all the math and science in the world wouldn’t help me build the things that I do without LaGuardia.
LaGuardia H.S. boasts graduates like Jennifer Aniston, Robert De Niro and Nicki Minaj. Also me! The arts are great.