Collier school board OKs leap forward for performing arts school

A performing arts school in Collier County took one grand jete forward Thursday evening.

The Collier County School Board agreed to move forward with discussions for a performing arts school in the county. While cost considerations in the current economic climate are at the back of board members’ minds, the consensus among members is that the idea is worthwhile.

The Collier County School Board appointed a Performing Arts School Board Advisory Committee in 2007 to begin work and recommend a design of a performing arts program that could be located at one of the high schools and complement existing programs in the district.

The nine-member, volunteer committee defined the performing art as dance, drama, music and visual arts, which include creative writing, film and AV technology.

But the inclusion of the visual arts upset Board member Richard Calabrese.

“You have gone off on your own and added these things. It will cost more, take more time to get going and we will not get the school set up for three years,” he said. “To take three years to do that is unfair. I am surprised you took that tactic.”

Committee co-chair Marilyn Von Seggern said committee members visited performing arts schools and elected to include the visual arts after seeing it in the other schools.

Calabrese said it would be easy for the district to establish a magnet school for the performing arts with drama, singing and dance and then expand to other programs such as visual arts.

“If you don’t, you are delaying a process that will let students take advantage of what they want to do with their future careers,” he said. “It is constructive criticism.”

The committee came to the conclusion that the school should be limited to 400 students. The number was determined by the county’s size and the success of other programs in the state.

The committee gave School Board members three options to establish a performing arts school in its report. Option one would establish a magnet program at an existing high school with a renovated and expanded facility to accommodate the program on the same campus as a regular high school.

Option two would give the district a separate magnet school on its own campus. For this option, committee members suggested the Board pair it with one or two other magnet programs, such as an academic magnet or a science magnet program.

The second option is inspired by an anticipated development of the Bayshore Cultural Arts District, which is an community redevelopment project currently in the planning stages. The school district owns 31 acres of land bordering on the proposed arts district and students would benefit from access to other arts organizations, Von Seggern told the School Board.

Option three would be to collaborate with public/private partnerships or a university/ district partnership. The advantages to this, committee members said, was that there would be more diverse funding sources and the opportunity to share facilities.

Board Chairwoman Pat Carroll said in the two years since the committee has been working, she has become more excited about the possibility of a performing arts school.

Is the committee convinced this is feasible based on your research? she asked.

Committee Co-Chairwoman Chellie Doepke said the committee concluded that it is.

“Collier County does not have enough students to comprise an entire school, which is why we suggested a double magnet program. But it is doable,” she said. “If you want it, it is doable.”

Von Seggern said the committee did speak with several related arts teachers who were concerned about what a performing arts school might do to their programs at the high school.

It really is a question of what you have now. If you have a strong, quality program, it is not going to have a negative impact, she said. If you don’t, it will.

Carroll said it is crucial for the board to pursue the program, both to draw students to the district and to provide maximum support to gifted arts students in Collier County.

Superintendent Dennis Thompson told board members he thought the next step would be to refer the committee’s report to the board’s education subcommittee for further discussion.

Board Vice Chairwoman Kathleen Curatolo said she would also like the facility piece to be discussed, including how the district would renovate an existing high school to accommodate the program.

“We will move it forward and see where it goes,” Carroll said.

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