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  • 21 Oct 2014

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Playing it by ear

Principals, graduates marvel at magnet school's evolution from uncertain beginnings


by: TIMES PHOTOS: NICK FOCHTMAN - Members of Dance West perform during ACMA's 20th Anniversary Celebration. As she walked out of the Arts & Communication Magnet Academy’s Performing Arts Center into a gorgeous late spring afternoon on Sunday, Paula Kinney glowed.

ACMA’s founding principal couldn’t help but feel energized, not to mention vindicated, that the dream school she and others fought to establish and keep alive through times thick and thin was able to celebrate 20 years of creatively fueled, arts-based education in Beaverton.

“I can’t believe 20 years have passed,” she said. “It’s so heartwarming to know that everything Dr. (Yvonne) Katz and I dreamed of has come to fruition. It was a team of us working to fulfill a dream.”by: TIMES PHOTOS: NICK FOCHTMAN - Former ACMA Principal Paula Kinney reflects on the history of the Arts & Communication Magnet Academy as she addresses those gathered in the school's state-of-the-art Performing Arts Center.

Kinney, who now serves as director of the Park Academy at Marylhurst University in Lake Oswego, was among the school’s current and former leaders and students who gathered Sunday to celebrate 20 years of ACMA. From an enrollment of less than 200 in 1993, the school’s first year as a high school, the academy has grown into a combined middle and high school with 700 students and a perpetual waiting list.

With student artwork and school memorabilia on display throughout the center’s foyer, the celebration included student-led tours of facilities old and new at 11375 S.W. Center St., performances by student musical combos and performances by current students and alumni on the main stage of the packed, 400-seat Performing Arts Center.

Highlights included the ACMA Alumni Jazz Band performing an exploratory instrumental rendition of “Just the Two of Us,” the hit Bill Withers/Grover Washington Jr. collaboration from 1980, “Never Say No,” an ACMA theater/music number from “The Fantastiks,” and the Dance West troupe performing the “Rich Man’s Frug” and “Village Afar.”by: TIMES PHOTOS: NICK FOCHTMAN - Theater students perform a musical number from their recent production of 'The Fantastiks.'

From modest beginnings

Welcoming the crowd to “gather in our new living room,” as Principal Michael Johnson said — referring to the theater and performing arts center completed in 2010 — he introduced Kinney and Orestes Yambouranis, an ACMA founding teacher and former assistant principal.

“It’s so exciting to be back home,” Kinney said, recalling former Beaverton School District Superintendent Katz’ proposition to her about starting an arts-based magnet school back in the early 1990s. “She said, ‘I will support whatever you need to make it happen.’ That was like my husband saying go to Nordstrom and the sky’s the limit!”by: TIMES PHOTOS: NICK FOCHTMAN - Former ACMA assistant principal and founding teacher Orestes Yambouranis was a crowd favorite as the keynote speaker for the school's 20th Anniversary Celebration.

She recalled the modest beginnings of ACMA’s dance program, when she reached out to noted choreographer Terry Brock for startup assistance.

“We had two students,” Kinney recalled. “We assured her the program would grow. The rest, you know, is history.”

Yambouranis received two standing ovations for his witty, lighthearted keynote address, which he delivered wearing a black cape.

“Back in ’92, we didn’t have fancy toys,” he said, referencing the sound system, podium and other modern features of the plush Performing Arts Center. “We had a mock vice principal, mop bucket, a fan and a quonset hut.”

Inferior facilities aside, the biggest question back then was exactly how to integrate the arts with social studies, math and science.

“OK, we didn’t know how,” he admitted. “We were not as ready as we thought we would be, but we learned as we went.”by: TIMES PHOTOS: NICK FOCHTMAN - Members of Dance West perform during ACMA's 20th Anniversary Celebration.

Making believe

Linda D’Amario, who taught math for three years in the early 2000s at ACMA, said it was a pleasure to return to the school and celebrate 20 years of growth.

“I think this will always be a special place where students get to follow their dreams and meet academic challenges,” she said after the speakers and stage performances. “I had kids falling asleep in class because they’d been up late at night playing their instruments. The dance program is amazing, and the music program is still amazing.”

Her husband, Dan D’Amario, agreed.

“This gives kids with special talent and spirit somewhere to go,” he said.by: TIMES PHOTO: NICK FOCHTMAN - Arts & Communication Magnet Academy Principal Michael Johnson welcomes guests to the 20th Anniversary Celebration.

Tim Morgan, a 1998 ACMA graduate, said it didn’t take much for him and his wife, Morgen, to come back to mark 20 years of ACMA.

“Back then, it was a pretty life-changing place for me,” the Tigard resident said, noting he met Morgen at the school. “The (emphasis on) critical thinking and analytical skills definitely prepared me for the work force.”

Based on the personal attention he receive from teachers, Tim Morgan, who is now principal of an early childhood development program in Northeast Portland, said he’s not surprised ACMA has flourished in spite of financial and philosophical challenges.

“The teachers have always been passionate and influential to students in a very positive way,” he said.

Peat Bakke, a class of 1997 graduate who works with high-technology-based entrepreneurs, said transferring to ACMA after flunking out of Lincoln High School “really turned me around.”

“I’m a believer,” he said.

He’s enjoyed observing as the school grew from a misfit collection of fledgling artists into the lauded arts academy it is today.

“It’s been exciting to see a program from ‘Freaks and Geeks’ turn into a real arts program,” he said. “It’s evolved.”by: TIMES PHOTO: NICK FOCHTMAN - The ACMA Alumni Jazz Band performs.

by: TIMES PHOTO: NICK FOCHTMAN - Sophomore Ryan Benson works in the lighting booth before the beginning of the big show.

by: TIMES PHOTO: NICK FOCHTMAN - Student artwork and school memorabilia was on display throughout the center's foyer.