• 73°

Lakeland to host new Center for Performing and Production Arts

Though other high schools around the state have an arts focus, the one coming to Lakeland High School will be unique among them.

The new fine arts program, which will begin with the 2022-2023 school year following School Board approval, will be known as the Center for Performing and Production Arts, and will emphasize music technology, vocal and instrumental music, theater and visual arts.

During Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon’s series of introductory public meetings at Lakeland, Nansemond River and King’s Fork high schools after he started in his role in Suffolk, he heard from a plethora of people who called for him “to reinvigorate and to draw additional interest in fine and performing arts in Suffolk Public Schools.”

Gordon noted the division’s partnership with music industry mogul Pharell Williams, who spoke via Zoom to Dr. Joleen Neighbors’ women’s choir class at Nansemond River High School earlier this year as part of the pilot of a new program, ‘Your Voice is Power.’ The program is a partnership between Pharell’s nonprofit YELLOW, Amazon and Georgia Tech.

“I really wanted to give our students the opportunity to see the other side of the industry,” Gordon said. “And even though we know that several of our students, probably thousands of them, would like to become musical artists, the money is on the production side.”

Division Director of Curriculum and Instruction Dr. Maria Davenport said it would be an innovative and integrated fine arts program that would provide hands-on opportunities for students along with cross-discipline collaboration and content creation. The program will also focus on preparing students for college or careers, performing in public and marketing and entrepreneurship.

“We really want students to drive what they’re learning within this program,” Davenport said, “and they’re going to use their knowledge in performance and production arts in different areas.”

The program will have four areas of study, which will be implemented incrementally. They include instrumental and vocal music performance, music technology and production, theater performance and production and digital and visual arts. Each area will have a performance and production path.

Davenport and Gordon differentiated the new program from the Governor’s School of the Arts, which has more of a performance focus rather than both that and the production aspect.

“It’s not our goal to compete with the Governor’s School of the Arts,” Gordon said. “And that’s why I really wanted to introduce the production side. It’s our plan to try to give our kids as many pathways as they can to really keep them engaged in school and get them to see what really happens on the other side of the microphone, we think, is going to be key, especially for our focus on entrepreneurism.”

Work will begin this summer on adapting spaces at Lakeland for the program, including upgrades in the auditorium along with the band and chorus rooms and the design and update of classrooms for the first year of the program.

In the fall, the division plans to buy needed equipment and spread the word about the program, and then early next year will hire a coordinator for the program, open applications and hold auditions.

That’s to be followed by designing the curriculum for the first set of classes next summer before the first group of vocal/instrumental and music production students. Gordon said the goal is to have about 50 students per year in the new program to ultimately add about 200 students at Lakeland.

Gordon had hoped to start the program last year, but wasn’t able to for budget reasons. He proposed it at the May 13 School Board meeting to allow enough time to put it in place.

“I couldn’t really wait much longer for the planning of it because it’s going to take seven months to get through all the logistics, upgrades to Lakeland, the scope of work, then hiring somebody,” Gordon said. “We took care of the hard part first. The hard part was the structuring and the sequencing. Now, it’s about doing some of those building upgrades and then getting the right person in charge.”

The tentative budget for the first year of the program is $335,900 for personnel — a center specialist/facilitator, a music tech teacher, vocal teacher, instrumental teacher and an audio-visual lighting technician who would be shared across the division.

It did not have an estimate for construction costs, but Davenport noted the division estimates spending $53,000 on equipment — building and room upgrades, mini keyboards, full-size keyboards, sound booths, motherboards, speakers and microphones — and $31,800 on a consultant.

The projected program of study in the first year of the program would be music theory, which everyone in the new Center for Performing and Production Arts would take, with students choosing a track in either vocal music performance, instrumental music performance or music technology and production, which would include a class on technology and electronic music. The latter class would be similar to one at Thomas Dale High School — Gordon previously served as chief of schools for Chesterfield County Public Schools — in which students learn music theory, but also learn coding and making music digitally.

From there, the new arts center would expand its course offerings so that by its fifth year, it will have the full complement of courses, expanding into visual and graphic arts, theater and career and technical education companion courses in business, marketing, digital visualization and entrepreneurship.

Davenport said the program expansion would take place in a similar way to the growth in the International Baccalaureate and Project Lead the Way programs, and it worked with Andre Skinner, coordinator of career and technical education and adult education, to put together the companion CTE classes.

In year four, students would have a capstone course of either an independent study or a workplace experience.

Davenport also noted state colleges and universities that have programs aligning with the new arts center, including the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, Virginia Commonwealth University, James Madison University and Tidewater Community College.

She and Gordon acknowledge that the program would also serve to boost enrollment at Lakeland.

Gordon said he hopes to have enough in place to be able to offer tours to prospective students by December, and use a similar timeline for applications that are used with the IB and Project Lead the Way programs.

Chief Financial Officer Wendy Forsman has set aside money to implement the program, Gordon said. A scope of work for the building improvements will also begin this summer.

“This is really going to be a two-year process; it’s going to be over multiple budgets,” Gordon said, “because after we hire the coordinator, then next spring, we’re going to begin to start hiring the teachers, so we knew it was going to take some time. It’s really about 20 months for us to really get this right, and we’re just so excited. This is a one of a kind. We did a lot of research. No one is setting it up the way we’re doing it.”

Board members expressed excitement about the new program and the opportunities it can give to students. Linda Johnson said that while the new program would increase Lakeland’s enrollment, it would also tie the creative elements of the arts with the entrepreneurial aspects necessary to make a living.

“The possibilities for our students to take their talents and take them everywhere and just really make a good living and doing what you love,” Johnson said, “there’s nothing more important than doing what you love and making your living with that. … This is tremendous.”