"The underlying factor is that art is both a creative discipline in itself and yet another avenue through which to learn the traditional basics," said Ralph Opacic, the newly named director of the Los Alamitos project. He said the school also will be open to students considered "dropout prone," as well as to academic "high achievers."
"This follows our belief that the arts field is both a creative discipline in itself and yet another avenue through which to teach the traditional basics. It is one way to reach students whose academic performance or interest has not been very high," Opacic said.
The county arts high school will be housed on the Los Alamitos High School campus, where a 750-seat auditorium is being remodeled as the arts project's main home. Transfer students will have to provide their own transportation to and from school.
Opacic, who is also the high school's vocal music teacher, expects to direct a staff of more than 20 part-time specialists. He adds that the Los Alamitos Community Cablevision Co. is constructing a $86,000 television center for the school.
The Los Alamitos project, which won a $194,700 state grant this year, won state approval over a summer arts program proposal submitted by the Orange County Department of Education.
The county department had sought approval for a five-week, all-arts program at Fullerton College for 200 students and had requested a state grant of $138,500, which would have underwritten most costs of a tuition-free program, according to Marie Clement, the county Education Department's arts coordinator.
The county proposal, which has not received funds from any other sources, remains on the shelf, Clement says.
Lynn Hartzler, an administrator in the state Department of Education's program for specialized secondary schools, says the full-time arts high school proposed by Los Alamitos school officials ranked among the highest in terms of potential program impact and fund-raising prospects.
Another factor in the plan's favor, says Los Alamitos coordinator Cross, is that the moderate-size unified district of seven schools already has a highly supportive program in the arts. Unlike some districts, she says, Los Alamitos has chosen not to cut its arts staff, which numbers 30 specialists in music and other fields.
About $100,000 of the state grant was to be used to renovate the campus theater, with the remainder to go toward teacher salaries and educational materials, according to organizers. Six arts teachers already have been "donated" on a part-time basis by the Los Alamitos district, and three video teachers have been donated part time by the North Orange County Regional Occupational Program.
Despite the state support and the apparent interest of students across the county, Cross says, the arts high school project has received "letters of support" from only three other districts: Irvine and Placentia in Orange County, and Norwalk-La Mirada just across the Los Angeles County border.
Administrators in those districts downplay the "attendance threat" issue as something that could either hurt their school districts or threaten the future of the Los Alamitos project.
"We're not really concerned--at this time, at any rate," said Jack Vaughn, district arts coordinator for the Irvine Unified School District. "We have one of the strongest programs of any district in the region. Frankly, we don't feel we would lose any large numbers of students."
Violet Bryant, assistant superintendent at Placentia Unified School District, said: "It's such a new program, so we're taking a wait-and-see attitude. Should the transfers reach a significant number, then, of course, we would have to re-evaluate that policy."
While the Fullerton Union High School District is not an "official" backer, administrators there have expressed support for the arts high school. A key reason behind that informal support is that the Fullerton district has a 2-year-old, state-supported high school specializing in technology that is similar in format to the Los Alamitos project.
Called Troy Tech, the special technological school is housed at Troy High School and has 124 students--18 from outside the Fullerton district. The specialized subjects offered include math, engineering and computer sciences.
"The aim of these special schools is to provide a programming depth for certain students that is not available elsewhere. It's one of the main reasons for allowing interdistrict transfers," Fullerton Supt. Robert Martin said.
But the "attendance threat" issue remains a delicate one for specialized schools that seek students from throughout the county, according to virtually all administrators interviewed.
"I can understand the reluctance of many districts to send students to such programs," Martin said. "So many are in such dire straits financially. And the ADA is the lifeblood for all of us."