Facing the Music
The Uncertain Future of the Orange County School of the Arts
Published Feb. 26, 2020
About this project
This project had been in the works for several months as a multi-part radio series before I was brought in to work on it for an additional digital presentation of a written piece. Our arts education reporter was trying to tell the story of the Orange County School of the Arts (OCSA) and how they were bending rules of their charter to operate more like a private school at the expense of the local community's black and brown kids. As the story unfolded, and she gained increased access — to internal documents, to students and their families willing to speak on-the-record, to admissions data from the school itself — the digital presentation plan took shape.
Our two biggest breaks were her ability to get inside the school with our newsroom photographer to take photos of students in classes, which gave me more visual assets to work with, and the school's eventual willingness to hand over three years worth of anonymized admissions data, which told us who got into which conservatory and where they were from.
The data proved essential in helping make the case that the local kids from Santa Ana (where OCSA is located), mostly minorities, were barely represented in the school's population and only in certain conservatories, namely, those that don't require additional costly training, lessons or coaching.
I was also able to embed the damning documents and great sound bytes the reporter had amassed in her months of reporting the story to add richness to the narrative.