by Don Bondi
The Los Angeles County HIgh School for the Arts (LACHSA) had its beginning in 1984 when several prominent political and cultural members of the Los Angeles community took advantage of a new climate and law in California education. This change of educational focus allowed for the creation of a specialized high school devoted to training selected high school students in the arts (visual, theatrical, musical, dance) while still allowing them to pursue their academic interest on the same campus.
(Previous to this time all California schools were to be comprehensive – that is non- specialized.) The mission of the school was codified by the faculty and administration in 1987: Students at the Los Angeles County HIgh School for the Arts(LACHSA) will be academically literate and capable individuals who embrace and value the arts while working towards their visions of the future.
Special legislation passed by assembly woman Teresa Hughes plus the major support of Los Angeles Supervisor Michael Antonovich along with a major grant from Caroline Leonetti Ahmanson and the Ahmanson Foundation resulted in the opening of the school in September 1985 – the first California public school giving parity to the arts and the academics.The students were selected based on having a “C” average at their previous high school and passing an audition in their chosen art area.The first student body of 300 was comprised of 11th and 12th grade students.The 10th grade was added the next audition cycle and in 2000 the school became a 4 year high school with the addition of the 9th grade. Academic teachers were recruited from all areas including some teachers transferring from the LA Unified School District.The 1st principal, Charles Stewart was “borrowed” from LA Unified.Two years later the arts school became part of the Los Angeles County school system. Arts teachers were selected and auditioned based on their individual arts expertise – that is their professional background in their arts area. The arts’ chairs who were full time, were recommended to have a credential but it also was not a requirement. (This later changed to become a requirement.)
The school is located on the campus of California State University, Los Angeles, and the students share the campus with university students, but are separate in classes and use facilities when the university is not using them. (The library is open to all.) An exception to this was for a time the university dance department did not have a strong ballet department or advanced modern department so there was a cross over and LACHSA dance faculty taught for the university. Thus, university and advanced LACHSA dance students were taught by LACHSA faculty and could receive university credit.
Because Dance and Theatre did not have a State of California curriculum (Music and Visual Arts were long recognized as viable curricula), one had to be written and accepted, Susan Stauter, theatre chair, and Don Bondi, dance chair, were selected to develop and implement an innovative curricula. In dance this innovation included the development of an ROP (Regional Occupational Program). This program had been the provence of such classes as auto mechanics, electric shop, etc. This was the first ROP program for the arts in California and the first ROP program at LACHSA. As a result of the acceptance by the ROP committee, the dance department received a stipend of
$10,000.00 a semester that was used to engage professional dancers and companies to work with the dance students in master classes, choreography, and residencies.
(See attached for a list of participants.) ROP was discontinued in 2001 after Bondi retired and the new chair did not choose to renew the agreement.
An important element in the high school was a cultural/multicultural aspect of which the dance department was a major force. The dance chair (Bondi) wrote, developed, and implemented four multicultural grants sponsored by the Los Angeles Arts Commission. The school received $40,000.00 to implement each grant. The grants were titled World Cultural Views and included Classical Arts of Japan, Hispano, Chicano, Latino, and the American World View, Native American (Indian) Cultures, and The African American Experience. As a result of these activities and the superior arts curricula another grant written by Bondi in 2000, resulted in the school receiving a California “Creative Ticket” –
National Schools of Excellence Award that resulted in the selection of LACHSA, the only high school in the nation, to appear and perform at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
In an overview of the arts curricula distributed to parents, the dance department read,
The wonder, the beauty, the human body in motion…that is dance at Arts High. Dancers will learn to stretch to the sky, to bend to the earth, to fly when flight does not seem possible. Through courses in ballet, ethnic dance, modern, choreography, movement exploration dancers will reach heights far beyond their expectations.
Dance Faculty at LACHSA (1985 -2000)
Don Bondi – Chair, Modern
Don Hewitt -Ballet
Renee Hawley – Ballet
Thais Leavitt – Ballet
Joanna DiGiovanna – Ballet
Meri Bender – Modern, Choreography
Ka-Ron Brown (Lehman) – Modern
Rudy Perez – Modern
Tania Richter-Prinz – Mime
Will Salmon – Modern, Accompanist, Music for Dance
Kathleen Klien – Contact, Improv
Debra de Liso – Gymnastics
Maggie Michaileidou – Rhythmic Gymnastics
Ardie Bryant – Tap
Sam Weber – Tap
Craig Kupka – Music Director, Accompanist, Music for Dance
Norman Beede – Music for Dance