What to Know
- Hundreds of LaGuardia High School students staged a sit-in to protest what they say is poor leadership as well as cuts to the arts program
- Many voiced concern about tougher academic standards for admission, while audition scores no longer carry as much weight
- Only 15 teachers voiced confidence in principal Dr. Lisa Mars while 119 voted “no confidence” in how she runs the performing arts school
Hundreds of LaGuardia High School students staged a sit-in Friday to protest what they say is poor leadership as well as cuts to the arts programs at the prestigious performing arts school. Many voiced concern about tougher academic standards for admission, while audition scores no longer carry as much weight. They said the result: some top student performers get rejected — while lesser performers with better grades are getting in.
“The arts is a necessity and this is an arts school so it should be a priority,” said student Cheyenne Bunch.
“We are incredibly intelligent,” said art student Seth Jolhun-Fuchs of Brooklyn. “I would not want to compare my math grade to someone who wants to become a mathematician. Why would I do that? I want to paint.”
Teachers at the school joined students in criticizing the principal and the growing emphasis on academics over talent. Only 15 teachers at the city’s best-known performing arts school voiced confidence in principal Dr. Lisa Mars while 119 voted “no confidence” in how she is running the school, United Federation of Teachers officials said.
Students said rehearsal time for acting, music and dance is now a shadow of what it once was — as more homework is being assigned.
“When we are having rehearsal and tech time is cut in half, that can ruin a production,” said student Tali Natter.
Ben Vereen is one famous alum who last week led criticism of new academic demands over performance at the arts school, known as the “Fame” school for inspiring the hit 1980’s movie.
“Let's not mess with our children anymore. Let’s not mess with the arts. Stop it,” said Vereen. The famous alum added, “… and demand that the children have the opportunities that they deserve.”
Parents outside the school Friday also voiced concern.
“I am all for academics,” said Anitarae Kamissoko who has a granddaughter studying vocal music. “But it is a school for music and arts and that is the main focus.”
Dr. Mars did not attend school Friday to meet with student leaders of the protest. Other members of the administration did invite some protest leaders to meet to hear their concerns.
The NBC 4 I-Team reached out to the New York City Department of Education Chancellor, Richard A. Carranza for comment on today’s protest and vote at LaGuardia High School. Doug Cohen, a spokesman for the Department of Education said, "LaGuardia has a long and proud history of both artistic and academic achievement and we'll ensure that students are receiving the support they need to thrive. The executive superintendent and superintendent will work closely with the school community and address any concerns."
Teacher union officials said lack of trust, admissions and lack of support by current administrators for the arts are three key issues at the school. A few parents and faculty outside the school Friday did voice support for Dr. Mars and her push on academics and AP classes.
But many more spoke about the mission of the school changing from an arts to academic focus under current leadership. The dual mission of performance and academics is out of tune, students said.