Yeou-Jey Vasconcelos, the head maestro of the Fame high school, first received top billing at the iconic institution in 2019. Now, after a relatively brief tenure overflowing with offstage drama, she will be taking her final bow in March.
The Fiorello H. Laguardia High School Of Music & Art and Performing Arts, located at 100 Amsterdam Avenue and 65th Street in the heart of Lincoln Center, boasts a star-studded alumni lineup including Al Pacino, Liza Minnelli, Nicki Minaj, Jennifer Aniston and Suzanne Vega (and many more, of course). One of nine specialized high schools throughout New York City, its admissions process is incredibly competitive and involves an audition or portfolio. Unlike the average American school, LaGuardia’s curriculum balances a hefty academic course load with conservatory-style arts programs.
When LaGuardia first confirmed the appointment of Vasconcelos (after former principal Lisa Mars departed in June 2019), she was a breath of fresh air. Mars had reportedly made enemies of both faculty and parents alike after shifting focus from arts to academics, while Vasconcelos had a stacked and relevant résumé in her corner. Not only did she lead the Talented Unlimited High School, a highly-ranked arts public school on the Upper East Side, but her substantial musical pedigree as a pianist was particularly intriguing. She even kicked off her tenure by playing piano in the school lobby.
But navigating the pandemic (and impending conversations regarding in-person schooling and social distancing) proved tricky — and those who resented her predecessor for putting arts on the back-burner found Vasconcelos was too lax in the academics department. Earlier in the school year, she proposed to reduce the number of class periods to reduce student stress and seriously cut down Advanced Placement classes, which parents felt would negatively impact their children’s college chances.
In an email obtained by the New York Post, Vasconcelos announced her imminent departure, writing that she was preparing to start a new gig outside of the Department of Education. Though it seems like some won’t be sad to see her go, the memo ended on a positive note: “At LaGuardia, each of us are cast in the role of a life-time. Each of us have our own given circumstances, with a shared objective to positively support student outcomes. I am filled with gratitude for all the relationships that have supported me in meeting our shared objective with the highest level of integrity,” she noted.
A spokesperson for the public school system says the superintendent is working on picking a new principal.
From the little I know about this situation, I do not envy the next person stepping in.I guess the balance of Arts/Academics will mimic the Athletics/Academics issue that never seems to satisfy. Add to this – “stage parents”.