Chris Bley's Survey Response
1. Your district has embarked on an initiative to restore meaningful sequential arts education into its core curriculum. What do you feel are the strengths and weaknesses of the plan? (Approximately 75-100 words)
The basic strength: Music, theater, dance, and visual art are not seen as extras to add on to the school day. The plan recognizes them as academic subjects, as universities do. LA County, prestigious foundations, and 38 school districts back the plan. It is difficult for parents and teachers in individual districts to advocate arts education effectively on their own. Arts education is too often a patchwork of whatever art a particular elementary teacher can teach or which artists PTAs bring in. A sequential curriculum that allows students to learn basic concepts and skills and build on them each year is far better.
2. If you are not familiar with the plan, what do you think your district can and should do to make this work more visible? (Approximately 75-200 words)
I was happy to see that the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District was one of the three pioneer Arts for All districts. Our district should condense the 17-page table that is on the Visual and Performing Arts District Advisory Committee’s website (http://www.smmusd.org/vapa/pdf/StrategicPlan.pdf) into a one-page fact sheet that would show what has been done since 2003, what remains to be done, how much it would cost, and where the funding would be found, since it’s not likely to be coming from the State any time soon. This fact sheet, besides being on the website, could distributed inside programs of elementary, middle school, and high school music, dance, and theater performances, to reach the parents most likely to be interested in the work of Arts for All. It could also be included in any printed material distributed in conjunction with exhibits of high school students’ visual art. Our district’s annual concert for grades 3-12, Stairway of the Stars, attended by about 3,000 people, would be an ideal place to publicize the Arts for All plan.
3. What role do you think the arts can play in supporting key priorities of the district such as reducing the dropout rate, closing the achievement gap, and preparing more students for college eligibility and/or meaningful careers? (Approximately 75-100 words)
Arts programs, like athletics, can motivate students to stay in school, especially students who are struggling in other classes. That reduces the dropout rate and can also close the achievement gap, because music and theater participation have been shown to raise students’ academic achievement and SAT scores, helping with college eligibility. Many lower-achieving students’ families cannot afford music lessons. The SMMUSD narrows the music achievement gap through the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation, Gail Dorin Music Foundation, and the Ella Fitzgerald Foundation, which fund the Dream Strings and Dream Winds programs at the four Title I schools and two middle schools.
4. In light of the current budget crisis, the state is now allowing local school districts flexibility to redirect their allocation from the “art and music block grant” to fund other local priorities. How would you balance the need to invest in arts education with the other financial challenges facing your district? (Approximately 100-150 words)
I would remind board members and administrators of three financial facts and one fact of life: · Music classes save money. Samohi’s marching band has more than 100 students; the symphony orchestra has 80-90 students; choirs and other ensembles are much larger than any other class. · Many parents place and keep their children in Santa Monica-Malibu schools because of the 3-12 music program and the high school theater program. Private schools cannot match what we offer. Now that the district is losing state funding because of declining enrollment, this fact is even more important. · Arts programs have active parent support, which is another source of funding to pay for art supplies, sheet music, instruments, theater and dance production costs, teaching assistants—expenses the district would ordinarily be expected to cover. · No education is complete without the arts. Students must have the opportunity to create and appreciate art.
5. What meaningful experiences with art (visual, dance, drama, music) did you have growing up? Please tell us about those experiences.
True confession: My performance art occurred on the soccer and baseball fields. You don’t want me to sing, act, dance, or paint, except maybe a house. However, I have tremendous respect for artists. As a student in the SMMUSD, I saw many of my friends thrive because of the arts programs our district offered, and still offers, more abundantly now. Some of these people went on to be professional musicians, actors, and visual artists.