When the ribbon was cut for the SPS Academy of Fine & Performing Arts, it was a long time coming.
In 2006, Springfield Public Schools began conversations with the community about a new way to deliver personalized learning: choice programming. In their research of the new teaching method, a special school choice research team discovered that throughout Springfield, community members wanted a fine arts school for elementary students. The experience would be year-round, focused on student engagement and help students cultivate talents and skills to benefit them throughout their lives.
In the decades to come, a number of magnet schools opened: Wonders of the Ozarks Learning Facility in Bass Pro Shops, the Academy of Exploration within Discovery Center and Health Sciences Academy @ Mercy. During those years, the Springfield Little Theatre and SPS searched for ways to partner for a specific choice program, in the right facility, with the right team.
In 2019, Springfield Little Theatre purchased the former McDaniel School and opened the Judith Enyeart Reynolds School of the Performing Arts for Springfield Little Theatre, known as The Judy. Immediately, SPS coordinator of choice programming Kelsey Brabo began conversations on what a choice program could be for SPS students in the same school where Juanita K. Hammons taught.
On Aug. 20, 2020, the SPS Academy of Fine & Performing Arts officially opened.
“Every day, 50 fifth-graders will come here, to The Judy, to learn in an engaging, relevant and personal way, about fine and performing arts,” said Superintendent John Jungmann. “This will be a space where they have the freedom to express their creativity. Guided by our teachers and experts from Springfield Little Theatre, these students will explore new concepts and develop new talents. We believe the Academy of Fine and Performing Arts will be a great new addition to a thriving arts community and will help foster a love of the arts in future generations of students.”
Springfield Little Theatre students performed, parents clapped and the community watched as the new magnet school became a reality. Foundation for Springfield Public Schools director Natalie Murdock shared the Foundation’s support for the program and its commitment to ongoing financial support, with an annual contribution of $27,000 to pay for facility costs, and Brabo introduced the Academy’s two teachers: Liza Gray and Jayme Carabello.
And finally, SLT Education Director Lorianne Dunn welcomed the crowd to The Judy, the 112-year-old facility built by the Landers brothers, who also built the Landers Theatre. In the new space, all were invited to create possibilities.
“This momentous occasion is truly a dream shared by so many,” said Lorianne Dunn. “This building, the programs it holds and now your school, are all a testament to a dream and the evidence of the persistence of the dreamers who come to realize them. Standing here today, I can definitively say that anything is possible.”
SPS Choice Programs have focused themes and aligned curriculum that provides students access to unique learning opportunities driven by their passion, inquiry, and community connections. SPS Choice is choice within the public school setting. Across Springfield, eight Choice Programs support more than 3,000 students.