Fiorello H. Laguardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts

Phone: (212) 496-0700
Website: Click here
Admissions: audition
Wheelchair accessible
specialized arts
Principal: Dr. Lisa Mars
Neighborhood: Upper West Side
District: 3
Grade range: 09 thru 12

What's special:

A haven for artists with a nice racial mix

The downside:

The days are packed

The InsideStats


Our review

Talented kids travel from distant corners of the city to study at the star-studded Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts. One of the most diverse and sought-after schools in the city, LaGuardia educates children of movie stars along with children poor enough to qualify for free lunch.

Students take a regular academic course load as well as two to three hours a day of their chosen art speciality: drama, dance, vocal music, instrumental music, studio art, or technical theater (which includes lighting, costume and set design). There are tons of performances ranging from opera to musical theater and a wide range of sports teams. The days are packed: Classes typically run from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. With up to three hours of homework a night and rehearsals after school and even during school vacations, sleep deprivation is a common complaint.

The academics are traditional and the quality of teachers ranges from excellent to should-have-retired-long-ago. Students are assigned to "honors" or regular classes depending on their level of achievement. Some classes are lively, with lots of discussion among the teachers and students, while others are more by-the-book. Parents say the math, English and social studies departments are strong, while science is somewhat weaker. The school offers a wide range of Advanced Placement courses and offers Spanish, French, Italian and Japanese as foreign languages. Some parents complain that writing assignments in English and history tend to be short journal entries or responses to readings, rather than long research papers.

The eight-story building opened in 1984 with the merger of two older schools, the High School of Music and Art and the High School of Performing Arts (made famous by the movie "Fame.") The size of the school can be overwhelming for some kids, particularly in their first semester as they are getting used to their routines. And, however conscientious the teachers may be, it's hard to get a lot of individual attention in a class of 34 students. More than one quarter of kids complained in the Learning Environment survey that teachers didn’t know their names.

Still, most kids are happy to be here. There is a spirited energy to the building that comes from being around students who are passionate about their work. On one of our visits, we heard an 80-member choir sing a beautiful gospel number in 4-part-harmony, listened to kids record music they wrote themselves in the school's recording studio, and watched while students made costumes on sewing machines in the basement. Art majors developed photos in a photography dark room.

[In 2013 long-time principal Kim Bruno announced that she was leaving LaGuardia for a job as the principal of the Ramon C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts in Los Angeles, California. Lisa Mars, former Assistant Principal of Language, Art and Music at Townsend Harris High School is interim acting principal.]

The school has attracted some celebrity children in recent years, including the offspring of Madonna, Robert De Niro and Suzanna Vega. It has a nice mix of white, black, Latino and Asian students as well as kids from all five boroughs—even the southernmost tip of Staten Island. Nearly 30 percent of students qualify for free lunch. The student body is more than 70 percent female and has many openly gay and lesbian students.

College admissions: Most students go on either to 4-year liberal arts colleges or to conservatories including Julliard, the Manhattan School of Music, Berkelee School of Music, Rhode Island School of Design, and School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Recent graduates attend Ivy League colleges including Harvard, Yale and the University of Pennsylvania, or other highly competitive schools such as Vassar College, Northwestern, and the University of Chicago. Many students go on to CUNY and SUNY schools. Dancers sometimes choose to go straight into professional performing, postponing college until their prime dancing years are over.

Special education: Fewer than one percent of students have Individual Education Plans (IEPs). The school has very limited special education services.

Admissions: Auditions are held from November through December and are highly competitive. In addition to talent, students must have good attendance, strong academics, with at least an 80 in each of their core academic courses and a Level 2 or higher on standardized ELA and math tests. Most admitted students score a 3 or 4 on state tests.

LaGuardia refused our repeated requests to visit. This report is based on interviews, a review of data, news reports and several prior visits to the school, most recently in 2007.(Clara Hemphill, updated November 2011)

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