Loudoun School Board approves musical theatre magnet

The Loudoun County School Board has approved a musical theater pilot program that is scheduled to start next fall at Heritage High School.

As many as 32 talented high school juniors or seniors will be selected for the part-time magnet program, designed to give them an edge when applying for specialized arts programs in college or pursuing work in the field.

“This is really a historic moment for this county,” said Wendy Marco, a Leesburg mother who developed the original magnet school proposal this year, referring to the board’s 7 to 2 vote Tuesday night. Marco said she hopes it is a step toward other advanced arts programs, and eventually a stand-alone Loudoun arts academy.

“It’s opening the door for all kids who are talented in all the arts and humanities,” she said.

Students will attend the Musical Theatre Academy every other day for courses in acting, dance and vocal performance while going to their home schools on alternate days. The county has a similar part-time advanced science program at the Academy of Science and specialized programs at C.S. Monroe Technology Center.

The School Board was receptive when it heard Marco’s proposal in January and asked school system staff to do a feasibility study.

The staff endorsed the proposal after filling in some details, including the courses students would take, how they would apply and how much it would cost for additional staffing and materials. The price tag is almost $50,000 for the first year and about $42,000 by the third year.

The staff also identified potential drawbacks. Students might not be able to take enough core classes to earn an advanced diploma, for example, because the half-time program will have only electives. Students might need to take online courses or attend summer school to complete the requirements.

“Kids should know there are trade-offs,” said board member Bill Fox (Leesburg).

Several board members expressed concerns about the additional costs in a year when budget cuts are expected. But many were excited about the prospect of expanding specialized offerings.

Board member Debbie Rose (Algonkian) likened the academy to creating “a little All-Star team” where students will push each other to do better.

The academy’s biggest advocates were potential applicants. Before the board voted, Brody Brown, a ninth-grader from Loudoun County High School, approached the dais.

“Members of the School Board, we encourage you to the seize the day,” Brody said.

The teen then broke into song. He was soon joined by a chorus line of students in performing a number from the musical “Newsies.”

The rollout for the program will be quick, with applications due in April, auditions scheduled for May, and admissions decisions expected in June.

Michael Alison Chandler writes about schools and families in the Washington region.
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