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    School Board approves Theater Academy pilot at Heritage High

    Students from Loudoun County Public School's theater and drama programs made quite an impression Feb. 25 during the school board's regularly scheduled public comment session.

    Brody Brown, a freshman at Loudoun County High School, led a contingent of theater and drama students from several schools in a flash mob-style song to show their support for the creation of a pilot Theater and Drama Academy at Heritage High School. The academy would serve as a performing arts magnet school for the county.

    School board members voted to approve the program as one of their action items by a 7 to 2 vote, with Chairman Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) and Brenda Sheridan (Sterling) dissenting.

    Both Sheridan and Hornberger were in support of the program but wanted to wait until the board's March 11 meeting to vote in order to further publicize the endeavor.

    The pilot program will offer specialized training for students who hope to work in the entertainment industry following secondary school.

    These types of performing arts programs are extremely competitive and highly selective, according to school board documents.

    While all high schools in LCPS have drama programs, they lack the specialized instruction that would be available at the academy.

    The three-year program would cost just less than $50,000 in its first year and would serve approximately 24 to32 juniors and seniors on “A” days. Buses will be provided for participating students.

    Admission would be contingent upon the completion of specific criteria which would include academic standing, essays and interviews.

    All of the school board members were in support of the academy, but many had reservations about the impact the implementation of the program would have on the 2015 budget.

    The school board adopted a $949 million operating budget last month. The County Board of Supervisors announced it would not fully fund the budget for the school board. The two boards are currently sitting at an impasse with a budget gap of $42 million.

    “I am supportive of this to a degree, but we are facing a daunting task with our budget,” Tom Reed (At Large) said. Reed ultimately decided to support the motion and looked forward to further discussing it during budget reconciliation.

    The Curriculum and Instruction Committee discussed the topic of funding for the program during a recent regular meeting.

    “Number one, staff discovered there is likely exterior sources of funding from programs, grants and things like that would be available,” Committee Chairman Bill Fox (Leesburg) said. “In addition, since we are talking about really an extraordinarily small amount of money, we should be able to rely on things like end-of-year funds to make sure the program gets funded in the first year.”

    Several board members noted the approval decision could be reversed just as quickly during the budget reconciliation process.

    All rising juniors and seniors will be notified of the program over the next several weeks. A tentative deadline for applications has been set for mid-April.

    Auditions for prospective students will be conducted in mid-May. Students will be notified by mid-June if they are selected for the program.


    Our current school board is a joke. When you suggest closing the small schools, building bigger HS, outsoucing, better transportation use or cutting back deans at MS, their answer is it’s not that significant of a cut… Yet, adding $50K for this project is ok….How can the school board be trusted with the LCPS budget???

    Its not a hard sell, when you have a school board who, knowing they are approaching another election year, want to be LOVED by all, and so you, here, there, and everywhere, drop little pieces of candy around, so that you are LOVED by everyone.  Never mind that you are keeping the students who enroll in this program from a future in today’s job market.  So, sing, dance, and drop the candy.

    I get the science academy. The way the job market is developing, especially around here, it’s important to nurture those students who excel at STEM skills and aren’t finding what they need in the regular public schools.

    But I’m not sure I get what the theater academy is out to accomplish. Are they targeting the minute number of students who might some day scratch out a living as a professional actor or techie?

    It sounds like a niche academy that serves a hobby, not a profession for the vast majority. It would be like having a separate learning center for students who want to shoot hoops in the NBA.

    While you don’t want to tell a kid that they can “never” do something. The chances of any turning pro in the theater arts are mighty slim. This is a tough sell in the times of a $42 million budget gap.

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