New World School of the Arts Musical Group Investigated For Pay-For-Play Claim

Since it opened in 1987, downtown Miami's elite New World School of the Arts has churned out generations of top local artists, from visual geniuses like Hernan Bas to Emmy-winning choreographers like Mia Michaels to playwrights like Tarell Alvin McCraney.

For up-and-coming musical theater stars, the school's über-competitive troupe, the Connection, is the first step toward Broadway. Yet the school district's inspector general is now investigating a complaint that the director, Ron Headrick, cares less about talent than whether parents are willing to pay thousands to send students to a New York summer camp where he teaches. 

"The name 'Connection' is apropos, since most participants are chosen for their parents' connections," the anonymous complaint alleges.

That claim is baseless, says Michael Knauf, director of French Woods, the summer camp in question. He says Headrick, who teaches at the camp, has no financial interest in recruiting students. "I hate to say it, but it sounds like sour grapes to me," Knauf says.

The letter, sent to Miami-Dade County Public Schools superintendent Alberto Carvalho, levels a number of charges at Headrick, who didn't return a call from Riptide.

The instructor chooses students for the Connection based in part on whether they enlist in French Woods, which costs about $4,000 for a three-week camp, or in plays he directs at the Miami Children's Theater, it alleges. Students, in turn, receive prime acting roles and raving letters of recommendation.

"'Less fortunates' spend what should be the best four years of their lives feeling excluded, bitter, and betrayed by... staff members lining their pockets," it says.

Rosa Schechter, counsel for the Children's Theater, says the claim is bogus, though. Headrick has no financial stake in bringing kids into his plays at the theater.

"He doesn't have any ownership interest in the theater," she says. "He's our guest director and we treasure his contributions."

Knauf echos Schechter's sentiments that the complaint doesn't make sense. French Woods actually offers several scholarships to New World students every year, and Headrick doesn't own the camp; he merely works there as a choreography instructor.

"Headrick is a great instructor," he says. "He benefits in no way from getting kids to come to our camp."

Neither MDCPS spokesman John Schuster nor New World principal Evonne Alvarez would comment on the investigation.

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