The Founding & Early History of Los Angeles County High School for the Arts (LACHSA) & Arts High Foundation

The Concept

The creation of LACHSA was a labor of love for many civic leaders.  They shared a dream to create a public high school for the arts that would provide a unique education for exceptionally talented students.  These individuals had the dedication, experience and influence to make the vision a reality.  At a meeting in 1980 with Music Center Education Council Co-Chair Caroline Leonetti Ahmanson, Dr. William (Bill) J. Johnston Superintendent of LAUSD, Michael Newton, Music Center’s President of the Performing Arts Council, and Joan Boyett, founder of the Music Center Education Division, the idea of creating an arts high school for Los Angeles County was developed.  In less than an hour, planning was underway to put this idea into fruition.

Los Angeles Conference

Moving ahead, Bill Johnston suggested hosting a conference in Los Angeles of a dozen principals from the nation’s leading arts high schools so that the Los Angeles arts education community could learn from successful programs.  The Ahmanson Foundation agreed to underwrite the three-day conference in Los Angeles.  The local conference committee structured the agenda to deal with how to go about establishing curriculum for such a model school, select prospective students, teaching artists and academic faculty, etc.  In addition, the committee discussed budget development and funding resources.

The Los Angeles Arts High School Planning Committee

Mrs. Ahmanson invited County Supervisor Michael Antonovich to chair the Los Angeles Arts High School Planning Committee.  He immediately agreed, and the two began to assemble an illustrious group of arts, education, business, government, and philanthropic leaders to create the vision of a specialized school in the arts.  This group met regularly in the office of Supervisor Antonovich.

The School Design

There was consensus from the beginning that the Los Angeles school would be a comprehensive high school.  It would offer a full academic curriculum each morning that met state-mandated graduation requirements, and would also meet requirements for admission to the University of California and California State University systems.  The afternoon would offer an extended-day program of arts courses in music, dance, theatre and visual arts.

Students would be selected on the basis of an audition or portfolio and interview, and the student body would reflect the socio-economic and ethnic diversity of the County.  The faculty would consist of credentialed academic teachers and professional teaching artists. For supplemental arts funding and further distinction at the State level, key legislation, written and sponsored by then-Assemblywoman Teresa Hughes, established the specialized school on the campus of California State University, Los Angeles.  In time the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE) under the leadership of then-Superintendant Dr. Stuart Gothold was chosen to govern and operate LACHSA.

The Opening of LACHSA

Dr. Gothold recalled thinking, “This is an idea whose time has come.”  LACHSA opened in September 1985 and became home and haven to 300 enthusiastic and talented young artists in grades 10 and 11.

LACHSA Accomplishments

From its very first year, LACHSA was recognized for accomplishments that designate a successful school.  In 1987, seniors in the first graduating class were accepted to this nation’s most prestigious schools including Yale, UC Berkeley, Juilliard, Curtis School of Music, and leading schools for the Visual Arts.  Within three or four years, LACHSA was academically one of the top five high schools in the state due to the quality of the teaching and curriculum.  There were accolades from the California Business and Education Council as a high performance school.  More than 90% of LACHSA’s graduating seniors go on to four-year universities, with the balance going either to two-year community colleges or straight into an arts career.

LACHSA’s mission states: “Students at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, through powerful learning experiences, will embrace and excel in the arts and academics while working towards their visions of the future.” The school was founded to fill a void in arts education and to recruit serious students in the Visual and Performing Arts.  LACHSA is a tuition-free alternative for highly motivated and artistically talented Southland students, including those whose families may not have been able to afford private instruction.

The Los Angeles County High School for the Arts Foundation (Arts High Foundation)

Everyone involved in planning for the arts high school realized that no specialized arts high school could function solely on public educational dollars; therefore, in 1984, one-year prior to the school’s opening the Arts High Foundation was incorporated with the express mission of supplementing the school’s arts program budget with the private funding necessary to sustain such a comprehensive program.  On September 10, 1985, a “Certificate of Amendment” to the Articles was filed by Michael Antonovich as President and Michael Newton as Secretary changing the name of the corporation from the “Los Angeles Arts High School Planning Committee” to the “Los Angeles County High School for the Arts Foundation,” which currently does business as Arts High Foundation.

On the same day a “unanimous written consent” was signed by all the Trustees: Caroline Leonetti Ahmanson, Supervisor Michael Antonovich, Altovise Davis, Wendy Goldberg, Richard Hansen, Michael Newton, Chancellor W. Ann Reynolds and Charles Stewart (LACHSA Principal).  The articles stated “The Corporation will promote the arts and the advancement of young artists by promoting the concept of a public fine arts high school in Los Angeles County, and raising and distributing funds for the establishment and operation of such a high school.”  The first meeting of the incorporated Foundation was held on November 26, 1984 with the following Trustees present: Mrs. Ahmanson, Supervisor Antonovich, John Deichman, Mrs. Goldberg, Mr. Hansen, Mr. Newton and Chancellor Reynolds.  The Trustees were clear in stating that their “function was to raise funds in support of the arts high school, and not to act as the governing body of the school.”

This history was taken from a comprehensive account written by Joan Boyett based on interviews with many of the original founders of LACHSA.

Dr. Gothold recalled thinking, “This is an idea whose time has come.”  LACHSA opened in September 1985 and became home and haven to 300 enthusiastic and talented young artists in grades 10 and 11

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