Campaigns

Spring 2015 Arts & Culture Candidate Surveys: Los Angeles Unified School Board District 5

Spring 2015 Arts & Culture Candidate Surveys: Los Angeles Unified School Board District 5

Candidate order: Bennett Kayser, Ref Rodriguez, Andrew Thomas

As part of its work to connect voters and candidates, Arts for LA presents these Arts & Culture Candidate Surveys to promote dialogue around issues related to arts education and its benefits.

Survey responses provided by each candidate are for voter information purposes only. Arts for LA does not endorse candidates seeking office. We are committed to fostering respectful, nonpartisan dialogue about issues relating to arts and culture. For more information, please read about our mission and values or our FAQ.

All eligible candidates were contacted to participate in the survey. If you would like to submit new or revise existing responses, please contact Cristina Pacheco at advocate@artsforla.org or 213-225-7580.

The Actors Fund, KCET/Artbound, the California Alliance for Arts Education, LA Stage Alliance, Latino Arts Network, Otis College of Art and Design, LA2050, and the Social & Public Art Resource Center (SPARC) served as Regional Partners by promoting Arts & Culture Candidate Surveys throughout Los Angeles County.

Voting for Los Angeles Unified School Board District 5 will be held on Tuesday, March 3.

1 seat is available in this election. Elections are at large; voters may vote for any of the eligible candidates in this election.

For more information on where to vote, visit the Los Angeles County Clerk/Registrar-Recorder’s Office website.

Question 1: Tell us about a meaningful experience you had with art (visual, dance, drama, music) while growing up? (Approximately 75-100 words)

As a young man, I met the woman who later would become my wife of over 40 years and she was a young aspiring artist. She has taught me so much on how to see life through multiple lenses and points of view. She introduced me to so many different forms of art like theater, painting, sculpture, and music, and such I was able to use these powerful experiences in my classroom. We would often use art as a way to raise our children and connect with community members and its ability to transcend relationships is still present in my life.

The arts have always been important for me. Without theater and music when I was young I'm not sure I would have applied myself in school as much as I did. I know from personal experience the power that the arts have to reduce dropout rates, to keep kids engaged in school, and to empower students to apply themselves in every area of life. I was lucky that I went to a school with programs that allowed me to express myself.

I was very active in music and drama growing up. Probably the most influential experience I had was singing in a children's choir from age 7-12 or so. We toured all over the city and sang for groups large and small. I also had music class in elementary and middle school, but I particularly remember middle school singing, where I have a strong memory or learning, "Abraham, Martin and John." After that, I had important experiences in the Reno Little Theater, where I sang in musicals. In high school, I was active in drama.

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Question 2: What role do you think creativity can play in supporting key priorities of the district, such as reducing the drop out rate, closing the achievement gap, and preparing more students for college eligibility and/or meaningful careers? (Approximately 75-100 words)

Art is at the core of all instruction and thus creativity is paramount. As a teacher, I would incorporate many different types of projects, medians, and subject matter to teach a lesson so that students would have to critically and creatively think about their question at hand. I truly believe art is what makes instruction unique. The careers our students will enter into in the future will be built around an ability to creatively adapt to varying situations. As a Board Member, I know I must be creative in order to keep progress moving forward so that our employees and students don't see our vision as stagnant or stale.

There's a pernicious paradigm in education that the arts are a "bonus", an "add-on" that we should provide when we can afford to. The reality is that in LAUSD we are radically under-investing in the arts, and it's the area where there is the most to be gained by increasing investment. From personal experience, and 20 years in education I know that robust art programs, supported by adequate funding and high-quality differentiated professional development, increase graduation rates by keeping students more engaged and enabling them to do better in all other disciplines. I'm very proud of the arts programs that we have at all PUC schools, and I know that those programs are part of why 95% of our students go on to college.

Many students can best be reached through the arts. There are creative ways to teach math, for example, through drama. I am a strong believer in arts at the high school level as a way of keeping kids in school and engaged. I don't see any division between art and science and am a proponent of the "Maker" movement, which combines the ethos of "making, not taking," with engineering skills, craft and art. It's an exciting time for makers and we need to share that excitement with our students. The STEAM curriculum exemplifies these principals.

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Question 3: Los Angeles USD district has embarked on an initiative to restore meaningful sequential arts education into its core curriculum. What do you feel are the strengths and the weaknesses of the plan? (Approximately 75-100 words)

I believe the commitment to having arts teachers in all elementary schools is at the core of what I believe is necessary. Our students must have a holistic education and integrating arts into our curriculum for our youngest learners is not just necessary, but a responsibility I have as a Board Member. A glaring weakness is the amount of money being directed towards the plan. I have fought tirelessly and will continue to direct more dollars towards art in the district. With the Common Core being implemented, the time is now to fully commit to a robust art curriculum across all grades.

I support restoring sequential arts education as a core subject. There has been some progress in many schools in the district, but many lag behind. I believe that there hasn't been sufficient attention paid to allocating funding based on key priorities within the restoration plan. And while I fully support arts integration, I believe that we haven't adequately supported teachers in training them to integrate arts into their curriculum. Arts integration has to be about more than enlivening curriculum, it has to be aimed at cultivating and expanding students' understanding and appreciation of the arts themselves. High quality, differentiated professional development is indispensable, and it isn't there for enough educators.

There are lots of good opportunities for arts integration and I fully support it as an educator, but I don't believe it replaces quality art class in music, drama, and visual arts in particular. I would put more emphasis -- ad feasible -- on hiring more certificated arts teachers. The arts integration professional development initiative is good and could be bolstered using "arts coaches," itinerant arts teachers who help coach other teacher in arts integration. I also support fully adopting the STEAM curriculum where the local school communities find it appealing. I would also emphasize more collaboration with community groups and arts partnerships. There are so many in the county!

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Question 4: How can your district make the Los Angeles USD arts education plan, and its progress on the plan, more visible to parents and leaders in your community? (Approximately 75-100 words)

I believe we must highlight our children's work and the Eastside Arts Festival is a classic example of how we must embrace art in the district. My hope is to expand opportunities like the Eastside Arts Fesitval to all communities within District 5. Parents deserve and need to know more about our amazing arts offerings in the district since we have invested in state of the art facilities. I was proud to complete the Eagle Rock High School Auditorium Renovation so that generations of students could use a cutting edge facility for theater, musics, dance and many other art forms. Furthermore, we learn so much when we bring parents, students, teachers, and administrators together and arts information is no different. Our great communities will drive our investment in art so that we can provide the needed programs and facilities.

First, members of the school board have to be much more active in engaging the community. Real engagement with parents, educators, and community members doesn't happen from the confines of an office downtown. Second, our school campuses are too often walled-off facilities that are not open and welcoming to the communities they are supposed to serve. Students feel alienated and disconnected when the arrive on a campus that feels like it's completely isolated from the surrounding neighborhood. I will make it a priority to make our campuses more open and engaged with the community, by prioritizing parent engagement on campus with relevant services and resources for families and members of the community. Bringing the community into our schools and our schools into their communities will make every aspect of education more visible, and will bring policy decisions closer to the people they will affect.

It needs to share this information directly with families at school sites and there need to be better mechanisms for that. The district communicates very little with families directly.

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Question 5: In light of the new funding structure for school districts in the state (i.e. the Local Control Funding Formula), how do you see arts education aligning with the eight new priority areas? (Approximately 75-100)

As I stated earlier, arts is at the core of instruction. The outcomes with which we will be judged based upon the Local Control Funding Formula are directly tied to how we prepare students for a 21st century marketplace. As a teacher, I know that students are at their best when they are challenged and given the opportunity to think creatively. Art is transferable to all subjects and our ability to use art as a common theme in instruction will be key to our ability to achieve our outcomes. The priorities set forth by the LCFF are all intertwined with our ability to properly educate all students. I know that our English Language Learners, Students with Disabilities, and all students who face challenges will benefit greatly from a diverse arts education.

Arts education plays an indispensable role in increasing student achievement and engagement. We know that students who regularly engage with the arts perform better in all other areas, and that they are less likely to exhibit behavioral issues, or to drop out of school. Given that, it is very clear that the arts aligns well with the LCFF priority areas. In LAUSD it has been the most disadvantaged and underserved students who lack access to the arts, and LCFF has an important role to play in changing that. I will work to ensure that the students in district 5 get the access to the arts that they all deserve.

Arts can align with at least seven (and arguably all eight) of the priority areas. If arts education is viewed as a mode of pedagogy, or method of instruction, it will improve student achievement and, of course other student outcomes. Arts can improve student engagement because the arts activities themselves (e.g. staged performances; ceramics) can be so absorbing in and of themselves. Critical thinking and problem solving are key components of the common core standards and, of course, students can engage critically with works of art and literature and making art is a problem-solving activity that is also emotionally fulfilling, and therefore engaging for kids. Last, arts can increase parent involvement because it offers ways for parents to not only view their kids' artworks and activities, but also participate in and support those activities. All of this will spill over into improved school climate.

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