Fall 2013 Arts & Culture Candidate Survey Results

Fall 2013 Arts & Culture Candidate Survey Results

Mon, 12/16/2013 - 3:53pm

Photo: Candidate Survey LogoArts for LA surveyed 177 candidates in 31 school board elections this fall as part of our semiannual Arts & Culture Candidate Survey program.

Arts for LA Releases School Board Arts & Culture Candidate Surveys

Arts for LA Releases School Board Arts & Culture Candidate Surveys

Fri, 10/11/2013 - 10:03am

Photo: ArtsVoteLAWith an estimated $5.3 billion in educational funding set to invigorate California’s schools due to Proposition 30, school board leaders will be tasked with setting the priorities and direction for their schools’ future.  To help spark dialogue around arts and education issues, Arts for LA has distributed Arts & Culture Candidate Surveys to every eligible candidate for election in 33 school district races throughout Lo

Fall 2013 Arts & Culture Candidate Surveys: South Pasadena Unified School District

Fall 2013 Arts & Culture Candidate Surveys: South Pasadena Unified School District

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 Arts for LA at advocate@artsforla.org or 213-225-7580.

Arts for LA thanks the South Pasadena Arts Council for their partnership in collecting and distributing these survey results. The California Alliance for Arts Education and LA2050 served as Regional Partners by promoting Arts & Culture Candidate Surveys throughout Los Angeles County.

Elections for South Pasadena Unified School District will be held on Tuesday, November 5.

3 seats are 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.

If a candidate has not yet responded, please click on the candidate's name below to invite the candidate via email to participate.

Candidate order: Suzie Abajian, Elisabeth Cavin Eilers, Julie M. Giulioni, Michelle Diane Kipke, Reynaldo "Rey" Ramirez

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

As a new immigrant to the United States, I was able to build friendships and gain confidence through my enrollment in the music and visual arts programs at my high school. These programs enabled me to feel engaged and invested in school and provided me with a social and creative outlet. I also learned leadership skills as I was elected for the vice president position in a 100 member choir and helped organize our spring concert my senior year. The music and arts programs at my high school were essential to my academic success.

I grew up primarily overseas, and most of that time in Latin America. The music of the Caribbean (Venezuela, Colombia and the Dominican Republic) is seared into my blood and my body. The joy of dancing to a feisty rhythm with horns playing and heavy with percussion is sheer ecstasy to this day. Like going to Porto’s Cuban bakery in Glendale, I am transported to a different culture by music, food, artwork and the like. My home is full of arts and crafts (Burmese lacquer, Guatemalan Mayan weavings, Balinese batik, etc..) I have purchased on my travels that bring the beauty of those cultures across the world and into my living room giving me great joy.

I was expelled from pre-school as a result of an arts-related incident. At 4 years old, I felt compelled to remain true to myself and refused to draw a tree as a brown stick and green ball as instructed. My tree had branches and leaves, despite my teachers request for a more traditional approach. (My mother understood when she picked me up after what I’m told was a ‘spirited’ exchange in the principal’s office.) To this day, that potentially demoralizing introduction to art acts as a foundation for my deep commitment to cultivating/sparking/encouraging individuality and creativity in kids and adults.

Music and drama were both very important activities during my childhood as well as during my adolescence. I played the cello throughout my childhood, and then rediscovered my love for this instrument as an adult. As an adolescent, I participated in drama and community theatre; these experiences helped me develop confidence and find my voice as a developing young woman. So art has played an important role in my life, and throughout my life. Perhaps more important though is my experience as a parent: I can see, on a daily basis, how art engages, inspires and soothes several of my children. My 4-, 6- and 13-year olds love art and all three are enormously creativity; I watch how they use art as a strategy to learn and master new information. I also watch my 13-year old use all forms of art and creativity as a tool to learn new material in science, language arts, and mathematics. Fortunately her teachers encourage this.

Years ago when I was 7 years old, my dad constructed a wooden sword for a play that I was to appear in. That sword would take a shy boy onto the stage where I would lead a group of pirates across the seven seas using my imagination. The sword later became the sword of justice in mock jury trials in high school. The sword then traveled with me to the classroom to begin a series of stories in literature. Thousands of stories later, the sword and I retired after 37 years in the classroom. The sword sits in my office on a shelf just above my computer desk. There it rests awaiting future grandchildren, when it will begin a new series of adventures. The arts for me began my career on the stage with a sword in one hand and a book in the other. As a board member and teacher, I see art as a means to spark our student’s sense of imagination.

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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 dropout rate, closing the achievement gap, and preparing more students for college eligibility and/or meaningful careers?

Engagement in music, drama, dance and the visual arts not only helps students to develop creatively, socially, emotionally but also excel academically--which are some of the key priorities for our district. These programs are essential not only in closing the achievement gap but also helping students to become college and career ready.

There is no doubt that the arts have a powerful way of engaging the whole person and an engaged student will be one motivated to stay in school and learn. While much learning involves the intellectual absorption of information, the arts allow for and encourage a more personal expression by the student. Many students who struggle in our educational system desperately need some creative outlet where they feel they have internally initiated voice and expression rather than demonstrating they have learned externally initiated subject matter taught by others. Truly good teachers can combine it all: the absorption of information and creative expression. As we adopt the new Common Core State Standards and focus on 21st century skills there is a new emphasis on the importance of creativity to survive in the 21st century. Students must be flexible, open and creative to be able to adapt to the rapid pace of change in the work force. Their imaginations need to be fostered so they can envision new ways of working and being. Fostering creativity will undoubtedly increase our students’ chances of surviving and thriving in the 21st century.

When people (kids and adults alike) are creating, they’re more engaged, motivated and satisfied. These positive emotions inspire positive action. (My own professional work and research suggests that higher levels of employee engagement drive any number of business outcomes and even impact the bottom line of an organization.) Providing opportunities for students to exercise creative expression can be a lever for affecting any number of important changes in our schools.

There is very clear evidence that participation in the arts is associated with gains in math, reading, cognitive ability, critical thinking, and verbal skills. Moreover, integration of art learning in the classroom has been found to improve motivation, concentration, confidence, and teamwork. I therefore strongly believe in the visual and performing arts, as well as efforts to inspire creativity throughout the course of the day. This should be an essential component of every student's educational experience. Both the visual and performing arts very clearly align with and will support our district's strategic priorities, including: emphasizing 21st century learning outcomes of critical thinking, communication, and collaboration; improving student achievement and closing the achievement gap; and increasing relevance of the curriculum and encourage students' active engagement. In addition, the visual and performing arts will become a critical cornerstone to our implementation of the new Common Core Standards. Visual arts are also likely to prepare our students for college and the workforce as new industries are emerging in this technology-driven economy.

In my opinion students drop out of school because they lack interest, not because of an excess of creativity. To be creative in the arts is for one to be engaged in the process. Creative people tend to want to learn new techniques in the visual arts, or dance movements, or new roles in drama, or practice new cords or movements in music. All these creative art forms have one common source, namely the classroom. Creative people strive to learn and the more you learn the better you are able to close the achievement gap. As the achievement gap decreases, the opportunity to go to college increases. There is a saying that if one does not know where they are going, you can’t get there. The Arts leads you on a path to a future. It supports the whole child. As a board member I support the arts. My goal is to see that every student graduates prepared to go to college. The Arts is one path to college.

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Question 3: 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?

Although we have a number of strong arts programs at the high school level our district could benefit from expanding and fully funding these programs as well as incorporating more arts and music programs at the elementary level.

We do not offer nearly as much of the arts as we should at all levels. At the elementary school there is a visual arts, drama and band program, but in the middle and high school these become electives that many students do not take advantage of. We recently passed a parcel tax measure from which some of the funds are earmarked for the elementary visual arts and music teachers. One teaching method that is being utilized more and more is project based learning wherein a student has some liberty to choose a topic of interest and research and present it to the class incorporating a variety of skills including creative expression. I would hope for more of this deeper learning experience with the Common Core. I would like us to have some more professional development around integrating more arts application in the learning of all subjects.

In the past, our district worked as creatively as it could within the limits of its budget to offer visual arts education at the elementary level. Through volunteer-run art docent programs and contracts with local providers, we offered limited arts education. Today, we enjoy a more robust program at our three elementary schools with a full-time, highly-credentialed arts teacher. This is a huge step forward and represents an evolving strength. Enthusiasm and expectations are high so I have no weaknesses to report today.

The reduction in State funding that we experienced four years ago severely impacted our visual and performing arts programs, particularly at the elementary level. But it is our hope to restore many of those programs during the coming years, particularly as we implement the Common Core Standards. We have therefore established the following focused district goal: To provide access to a comprehensive, standards-based curriculum in all areas of visual and performing arts to all students in grades K-12. I am really very excited about the work we plan to initiate during the coming year, with tremendous support from our community (and the renewal of a parcel tax that supports public education). It will take a commitment to restore sequential arts education, as well as a commitment to allocate resources to support this goal.

The strength of the sequential arts program in South Pasadena is that parents work countless hours to raise money for SPEF. The funds raised by SPEF are used in part to fund a summer arts program. The weakness of the program is that parents need to work to raise funds to support the arts because the state does not have the resources to fully fund the school budget. As a board member I will work to see that every dollar we receive from the state is carefully spent on the classroom. As the economy recovers and revenue improves, it is my hope to suggest that some SPEF funds be redirected in new ways to enhance the school programs, including mini grants for classroom arts projects and or scholarships for students who are fine arts majors.

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Question 4: How can your district make your arts education plan and its progress on the plan more visible to parents and leaders in your community?

Our district can make our arts education plan and its progress more visible to parents and leaders in the community through the organization of an annual arts festival where students from different arts programs across the district would be able to display and perform their work for the larger community. Also, the district website could have an arts bulletin board where arts instructors could post information about performances, art exhibits and awards within our schools and make this information more widely available and visible to parents and leaders in the community.

The district showcases a wonderful play for 5th graders (funded by our educational foundation) as well as a middle school and high school play. There are Christmas, spring and end of the year musical events whether different band or choral groups. The high school dance class also has a performance. Students participate in statewide art and literary competitions (Reflections) as well. Hosting a forum around the topic of how to increase exposure to the arts would be a helpful way to brainstorm how to best enhance our art offerings for our students. Given our community is very arts oriented I wish there was more community and school district collaboration such as field trips to local galleries and the like.

Our district and the various fundraising entities that support it do an excellent job of showcasing its dramatic and musical arts education through public performances. There may be merit in considering similar events to draw attention to visual arts as our new program grows and takes hold.

We are a small town, and our district staff and board members work closely with our City Council and member of our Chamber of Commerce. We meet regularly, and could add our arts education plan as a standing agenda item for discussion and coordination, citywide and through public-private partnerships. Moreover, we have a very strong PTA at each of our schools, and they too could be engaged to help solicit input from parents and disseminate information about the plan (and progress made to date). Our school site counsels could be asked to review implementation of our arts education plan at each school and/or a special Arts Task Force could be established by the district to ensure district-wide engagement and accountability. Finally, our district website could also be used as a tool for communication and dissemination, both with respect to the plan and progress made towards achieving/reaching our goals.

I favor public art displays in South Pasadena. In our city we have an annual program called Art Crawls. The focus of the citywide program is to highlight the work of new artist. As a board member I would advocate the inclusion of the work of student artist in community galleries and public offices. I would further suggest adding student musicians to our annual summer series called concerts in the park. Time permitting, short plays and dramas might also be included. As a board member I will work to fully fund schools. I would then suggest that some SPEF funds be used to offer scholarships to new artist and help fund new projects for public display.

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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?

Arts education will enable our students to feel more engaged and invested in school (aligning with the student engagement priority), which in turn will result in higher academic achievement (which aligns with student achievement and student outcomes priorities). Arts education also aligns with the school climate priority by bringing down student suspension rates and increasing school connectedness.

Arts education absolutely aligns with every one of the eight new priority areas. Already mentioned above are some ways in which increasing student exposure to the arts increases student engagement and thus achievement leading to more college readiness. Creativity is vital to deeper critical thinking and application of information. This is a very exciting time of restoring more arts education into the educational system after years of excessive focus on testing scores and the acquiring of rigid bits of information and skills. Hopefully the arts will not be seen as superfluous but as a critical, vital component of a quality educational foundation.

At SPUSD, we are grappling with LCFF and its implications. Gratefully, our community feels so strongly about arts education that we passed a parcel tax earlier this year. A key priority for these genuinely locally-controlled funds was restoring a robust arts program at our three elementary schools. As our wonderful, enthusiastic new art teacher comes on board, I’m certain that she’ll find countless ways to align and embed arts education within the school day.

Our district developed an arts education plan nearly four years ago, after the single most significant loss to public education funding in recent history. That was not a time when we could afford to think in a particularly creative or ambitious way about any of our programs. Fortunately, the economy is heading in the right direction and efforts are now underway to restore funding for public education to the levels of 2007/2008. Moreover, through the Local Control Funding Formula, our district will have more authority to prioritize and allocate its resources. I would be in favor of revisiting our arts education plan and engaging our community in a meaningful dialog to define what we would ideally want in our education plan, and the incremental steps we would take to achieve that plan, as we receive more funding from the State (over time), as projected. To be sure, this is a very exciting time to develop both innovative and sustainable programs, K-12, in the areas of visual and performing arts.

The new state funding structure now requires parent involvement in the district budget process. Parent representatives will not only be part of the discussion but they will also have the option to vote to partially fund, fully fund or not fund specific budget items. As a board member, I favor parent involvement, and transparency in the budget process. As a board member I will strongly advocate for the arts and parent involvement.

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