Editor's Note: The Huntington Beach Unified High School District has an amazing arts program. Called the Academy for the Performing Arts (APA). Since 1993, it has been a magnet school for the arts serving the students in the eight traditional high schools in the district who can either stay in their home school and take courses after the normal day or transfer to Huntington Beach High School, where it is housed.
The Academy has six major areas of concentration:
* Music Media and Entertainment Technology
* Orchestral Music
* Musical Theater
* Theater, and
* Technical Theater.
Under the leadership of their Artistic Director, Diane Makas and a talented and dedicated teacher staff, they not only provide an excellent learning environment, they help inspire the fundraising to support the program from community members, parents, local organizations and the corporate world to make sure the students have the latest, state-of-the-art equipment and facilities to make certain that the education is relevant to what is available in the real world.
This first look at APA is the result of an interview I did with Jamie Knight, of the Music Media and Entertainment Technology department who is also the HBHS Arts Department Coordinator. I have ten pages of typewritten notes, from which I will distill just a sample of the brilliant program provided to his students. While Jamie is extremely dynamic, he is representative of the staff that leads APA. I can say without qualification, as a former school board member for almost ten years (Merrick, NY), that Jamie Knight is the type of teacher everyone dreams of. He inspires students, parents, and colleagues, in short everyone whose life he touches.
OCS: At your core, there is music. Please give us some your background as a musician.
Jamie Knight: I was a professional musician when I left high school. I worked as a nightclub musician playing clubs in Southern California traveling from 1972 as soon as I graduated until the 1980s. By then the nightclub scene was changing with disco music coming out and it became much more difficult to make a living so I worked in the corporate world for about 20 years in sales and marketing
OCS: I know you had a particularly interesting path to the APA.
Jamie Knight: I got my masters in Library Science and while I was in the library at Fountain Valley I sponsored Battle of the Bands to engage at-risk kids to stay in school and I was able to convince the other schools to try this and Edison was the only school that really embraced it and their Battle of the Bands are still going strong. The activities director commented he couldn’t believe we have this many of these type kids on campus. Anyway Diane Makas, through her vision, saw that I was a guy who could build this program so she offered me one class while I was still the library at Fountain Valley and Ocean View. She if you like this and it works the next year maybe we can try to get you here full-time. She was good to her word and I came to the Academy full time in 2004.
OCS: Please tell us about this magnificent facility.
Jamie Knight: The room we’re in is a multi-purpose room that is available to all sections of the Academy. It can be configured as a small concert hall, television studio, or performance space that allows students to plan, perform, and direct in a non-threatening environment where they use state-of-the-art cameras, lighting grids, audio and video switching equipment, just like those in our larger theater and many small commercial production facilities. One application is a weekly news program that is currently posted on YouTube. In the future we will be able to stream these shows and performances throughout the school. The control room behind the glass wall is equipped just like our auditorium so the transition from here to a large theater is really easy once the basics are mastered.
Down the hall are midi keyboards and guitars which we expect all of our students to become proficient in during their programs here. We make it inviting by using devices such as the iTouch which the kids really relate to at each learning station that contains all of the music and lessons they need without having to go and check out tapes and DVDs.
OCS: Please give us some highlight during these past 5 years.
Jamie Knight: There are so many. One would be a relationship that has developed with the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts, the school associated with Paul McCartney. It started when we visited Liverpool with some of our kids and took them to The Cavern Club where the Beetles got started. We also visited the Institute and they were so impressed with our kids that by last year they used our facilities in Huntington Beach to do their U.S. auditions for students applying for admission. They are coming back this year as well. Also, two of our graduates are full time students at LIPA. Many of our graduates are going on to four year colleges to continue their studies in the arts, including one who graduated from USC and while waiting to get a job came back and interned for us. In fact, USC now brings many of their doctoral students to visit our program on a regular basis.