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Growth in arts programs leads to need for H-F High additions

Fewer than a dozen community members came out Monday night to learn about the expansion plans at Homewood-Flossmoor High School.
The District 233 school board is considering adding an open space for rehearsals and staging, commonly called a black box theater, and additional arts classrooms, as well as remodeling current arts spaces. The final dollar amount has not been set, but an initial estimate for the project was $12 million.
The district has $12 million in reserves to cover construction costs. With that money in hand, the district will not raise taxes to cover the cost of the project, said Ken Parchem, business manager.
In an hour-long presentation, administrators gave insights into the popularity and growth of the high school’s fine arts programs. Today 39 percent of the student population is enrolled in at least one of the 53 arts courses offered at H-F.  
“We’ve outgrown our facilities at this point, which is a good thing,” because it shows the interest students have in the arts programs, said Nancy Spaniak, director of curriculum.  
Attendees got to see a video that highlighted all facets of the fine arts department, including band, orchestra and choir in the music department; a theater department that puts on nine plays a year and offers courses in technical skills, such as lighting and staging; a fine arts program that includes everything from graphic design to 3-D sculpture; and a broadcasting department that runs its own radio and television studios.
In January 2016, the board established its MVP Academy for music, visual arts and performance students who plan to major in arts in college. It will officially begin as a curriculum next school year.
A high school with an enrollment of more than 1,000 students in fine arts is exceptional, said program chair Jackie Wargo, who noted that art is not a required course for graduation.
As the programs have grown, the need for updated space has become more apparent. Mansfield said the expansion plan now before the school board is part of its long range planning process in updating the physical plant.  
Several parents were there to applaud the fine arts program, and one mother said she looks forward to the improvements. Her daughter, now graduated, didn’t major in arts in college, but she knows how beneficial her involvement in the H-F music program was to her development.
But one resident thought the cost was too high, and another suggested money should be diverted to curriculum needs for improving math and science programs to get H-F’s SAT scores up.
He said once H-F’s scores are posted on social media and compared with other school districts, prospective homebuyers will change their minds. 

“They don’t get to see all the stuff our students do” by looking just at numbers, he said.

“The achievement gap is not something this community has ever ignored,” said Steve Anderson, president of the school board. “We attack that achievement gap with every resource we have.”
“If we’re putting time in looking at facilities, I guarantee you we’re putting more time in to what you’re talking about,” Mansfield said.
H-F is hosting two more informational sessions on the renovations at 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 9.

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