This week, I learned that my alma mater, North East School of the Arts is in danger of closure by San Antonio’s North East Independent School District. “NESA” is a magnet program housed on the campus of Robert E. Lee High School and offers majors in seven artistic disciplines: Cinema, Creative Writing, Dance, Instrumental Music, Musical Theater, Technical Theater and Visual Arts. Students are selected via a competitive audition and application process in each major. I majored in Dance (and later, double-majored in Musical Theater) and fulfilled my academic requirements at International School of the Americas (another magnet school on the same campus).
The district wants to close NESA for budget reasons. Arts programs are often the first to go when the economy is poor and funding is tight. NESA also provides small student-to-teacher ratios which, along with other factors, means that NESA students “cost more” than students at other schools. Here, I can sympathize with the district. Sympathy becomes more difficult to procure when I look at the places where the district is planning to spend money in upcoming months. For example, a $1,250,000 bond to renovate the fine arts facility of another high school and six-figure salaries for district administrative staff. I’m all for the improvement of arts facilities but it’s silly to make additions to the arts program of one school with one hand while shutting down an entire magnet program with one’s left.
NESA students and faculty won’t be the alone on the losing end of NEISD’s financial quick-fix. Lee High School–a school with often ranked among the lowest in the district academically–has benefited greatly from NESA’s presence on campus. NESA students are some of Lee’s best students with over 99% passing the state-mandated TAKS test on the first try, most with commended scores. Last year alone, NESA students received over $10 million in scholarship offers from some of the best universities and conservatories in the nation. (It turns out when you’re actually excited about learning you actually, you know, learn.) NESA students are active participants in the Lee community serving in student government, performing at pep rallies and assisting with campus-wide events. Lee is a fine school on its own and NESA is a wonderful program, but the community they create together makes the campus one of the most exciting, diverse educational institutions in the city. In college, I often find myself craving the energy I experienced as a member of the NESA/ISA/LEE community. While I love college classes, I miss the exceptional NESA faculty (now in danger of losing their jobs), the challenging ISA projects and the wonderful people at LEE. To remove NESA from this campus is to remove an essential factor of this magical equation. Lee will not be the same without NESA, NEISD will not be the same without NESA, San Antonio will not be the same without NESA.
Faculty, students, parents and NESA supporters are currently brainstorming ways to reduce NESA’s financial burden on NEISD. I hope and pray their efforts are successful. NESA has produced so many bright, talented young artists and people. There are no other schools in the city that send students to the Sundance Film Festival. There are no other schools in the city where young dancers take a Chemistry test in the morning, then work with world-renowned choreographers in the afternoon. , I not only cultivated a passion for dance at NESA, but an interest in creative writing, cinema, music and technical theater as I admired and supported the work of fellow students. I maintain a high GPA in college and have received scholarships for dance and writing, all thanks to the self-discipline and work ethic I earned at NESA. As I begin to venture into the world of professional dance, I am more prepared than many dancers my age. NESA taught me how to audition, how to perform and most importantly, how to work hard.
Enough sappy testimonial. The point is, North East School of the Arts is worth saving. Please, NEISD. Don’t lose (or “reassign”) some of your best teachers and best students. Let NESA live!