Accountability · achievement gap · Advanced Placement · arts in schools · Educational Equity · NYC high school · Parents Helping Parents

Is the ‘Fame’ School Gonna Live Forever? Not Under This Principal!

(The author of this guest post wishes to remain anonymous.)

The “Fame” school is not “gonna live forever”; that is, not if the current principal has anything to say about it.

Since her arrival at LaGuardia High School in September 2019, Principal Yeou-Jey Vasconcelos has been on an anti-academics, anti-merit crusade, despite the alleged “dual mission” (arts and academics) of the school. When her attempts – without consulting with or even informing teachers or parents of them –  to simply eliminate AP classes failed in the wake of student and parent outrage, she tried workarounds: 

  • Changing the calculus syllabus so that the College Board wouldn’t certify it as an AP class (parents later managed to get this reversed); 
  • Adding prerequisites for advanced classes; 
  • Offering only 14 classes 10th period in a school of over 2000 students, none of them math, science, or upper-level language courses;
  • Discouraging students from taking classes beyond the paltry state requirements; and
  • Denying student requests to take classes in subjects where they have already met those state requirements.

In case that’s not enough for you, an AP History teacher requires both parents and students to sign an acknowledgment that at times the course may be “exhuasting, boring, and biased.”  Who would want to take such a class? And if merely discouraging kids from taking certain academic classes fails, some classes are just eliminated. Junior drama majors no longer take English as it is “incorporated” into drama.

As a result, families who can do so are now outsourcing at least some of their LaGuardia students’ education.

 LaGuardia High School is failing in its basic mission: to educate its students.

And then Ms. Vasconcelos came for the arts by:

  • Refusing to host Rising Stars, LaGuardia’s talent show and one of its premier events, at the school, on the grounds that it is “exclusive;”
  • Cutting or trying to cut the instructional time for both Music History and Art History, required classes in their respective majors, in half;
  • Scheduling advanced academic classes and advanced studio (arts) classes at the same time; and
  • Ensuring that no senior Fine Arts major can take a studio art elective.

What’s next? Letting students take math half-time? History? Chemistry? (Oh, wait, that’s exactly what Ms. Vasconcelos implemented during the pandemic. Students took each year-long course for only a semester, and only 3 times a week.) 

After all, according to Ms. Vasconcelos, school apparently interferes with students’ other obligations: namely, jobs and childcare, two items the principal throws out regularly. Would she like to return to a time of child labor, when education wasn’t required? 

On top of all this, parents are not informed of their children’s course selections, much less required to give permission. 

The principal claims she is doing this in the name of equity, to help “our most vulnerable students.” But it is those very students who most need a strong education, who are most likely to attend colleges that will give students credit for certain minimum scores on AP exam, and thereby the most likely to save money on tuition by taking AP classes and exams, and the least likely to be able to take classes outside of school or afford tutors.

LaGuardia needs a new principal. One who values both arts and academics, values them equally and is transparent about his or her vision for the school. One who believes in artistic and academic merit and seeks to make sure all students achieve their academic and artistic potential. One who does not believe that simply satisfying the state requirements is sufficient, but instead encourages students to go above and beyond. One who wants to collaborate with both teachers and parents, not treat them as adversaries.

After all, the students in the movie “Fame” were told “This is no Mickey Mouse school. You’re not getting off easy. Because you’re talented, you’ll work twice as hard. Now, I don’t care how well you dance or how many colored tutus you have. If you don’t give your academic subjects equal time, you’re out.”

Let’s hope life starts to imitate art.

What do you think?

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