HCST parents, students, oppose plans to restructure performing arts at High Tech & County Prep

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Hudson County Schools of Technology parents and students are voicing opposition to plans to restructure the performing arts programs at High Tech High School program in Secaucus and the County Prep High School in Jersey City.

Photo via hths.hcstonline.org.

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

“To enhance Career & Technical Education (CTE) within the Hudson County Schools of Technology, County Prep High School/ATD and High Tech High School/ACTE will be coordinating a combined effort to unify our CTE programs,” CPHS Principal Barbara Mendolla and HTHS Principal Kathleen Young said in a joint letter to students and parents on Friday.

” … The district has invested a significant amount of funding into each campus (FJG & EWB) for upgrades to these CTE programs. Combining the resources will strengthen each program and provide extensive opportunities for students. We collectively look forward to enhancing the CTE programs to better serve our talented students with our state of the art facilities.”

Specifically, the letter explained that the Early W. Byrd Center in Jersey City is slated to be the main campus for music technology majors, while the Frank J. Gargiulo Campus in Secaucus will remain the home for dance, theatre arts/drama majors.

Freshman, sophomores, and juniors will be able to decide if they’d like to continue their major and transfer to a new school or stay at their current campus and switch majors.

The district will also offer a “shared-time model” for juniors, where they’d be able to pursue their program of study at their new campus, while completing the rest of their classes where they’re studying now.

A Change.org petition that emerged over the weekend, started by CPHS dance major Kassandra Esparra, calling to stop the merger already has 1,386 petitions.

“We are beyond hurt and stressed due to this change. We are aware that these schools are a business and a way to profit, but our school is a safe space for most of us,” the lengthy page description says.

“They are taking away that feeling by forcing us to transfer The students who got accepted to County Prep and High Tech, decided to stay at their school of choice as the place to spend their four years of high school. To change our environment for their wellbeing, especially since we didn’t get an opinion or vote on it, is unfair.”

Additionally, several petition commenters echoed Esparra’s sentiment.

“I don’t want to be ripped away from my school, my teachers, and my friends, especially when I don’t even get a say. Please don’t let this happen,” wrote Olivia Maurum.

“Student voices deserve to be heard and considered,” added Anais Peralta.

A separate petition started by HTHS student Ariel Washington has about the same amount of signatures on it.

Furthermore, Sofia Waldron, a junior music major at HTHS, reached out to HCV via email to express her displeasure with the proposal.

” … This makes no sense to myself and many others to separate the performing arts majors, we rely on each other and we all coexist, and essential part of the curriculum in MAT is working with the other PA majors, which is impossible to do when we are in a separate school,” she explained.

“Another essential part of MAT is working in our theatre, with the other majors, which again is IMPOSSIBLE with us being in a separate school. For all of the performances, within the Performing Arts Academy and out, the MAT program is essential to allowing these to happen, as we are always the stage hands, lighting directors, sound engineers, and so much more.”

In an open letter to local, county, and state officials, HCST parent Miguel Guadalupe said that calling the restructuring an investment is misleading, as well as vowing to have a crowd in attendance at the next HCST board meeting on February 17th.

“To call the restructuring of the Performing Arts program an ‘investment’ is misleading to students and parents. In reality, it has been downsized,” he wrote.

“That it is also being divided adds further injury to this insult, and kills the heart of Hudson County school system, which until now, has been highly regarded among colleges, universities, and among the professional arts industry for its steadfast commitment to the performing arts.”

Guadalupe also called the process “ham-handed” for not soliciting feedback from parents before making the announcement, also asserting that “many of us feel betrayed by our administrators.”

Nevertheless, HCST Superintendent of Schools Amy Lin-Rodriguez said she favored the concept in a statement released yesterday, indicating this would offer a “more concentrated program of study.”

“As the County’s Career and Technical Education vocational school district, it is our obligation to offer a more concentrated program of study for our talented students by combining our district resources and faculty,” she stated.

“This specialized enhancement will ensure that all of our students and faculty have access to state-of-the-art studios, equipment, and technology. We are committed to working closely with our CTE Advisory Committees, staff, students, and their families to ensure this transition is a smooth one that minimizes disruptions while enhancing these CTE programs – benefitting our students’ overall learning experience.”

The CPHS offers a radio broadcasting station, recording booths, instrumental music classroom, and control rooms, while HTHS includes a professional black box theater, performance auditorium, musical theatre classroom, rehearsal rooms, and a 2,500 square feet dance studio equipped with sprung flooring.