LAUSD Board Member Steve Zimmer on Arts Education

Steve Zimmer represents Board District 4 on the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education. 

 

 

 

I probably wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the arts. I was a struggling high school student doing a lot of things I shouldn’t have been doing when a teacher named Mike Mucci “found me” and put me in a play called “The Hasty Heart.” Learning from this great theatre master, I found a voice and an outlet for a lot of the things I was feeling inside. Maybe more than that, theatre was the one school thing I felt I was good at. Theatre became my gateway to literature, to activism and eventually to college. Though it’s been almost 20 years since I’ve been on the stage, there was no greater training for my career as a high school teacher. And as for the School Board…..well….

This past year has been one of the most difficult ever for LAUSD’ s arts education programs. Although we have been able to resurrect a good portion of our positions through the creativity of Superintendent Cortines and our agreement with our unions, the hit on programs is real and the impact on classrooms will be significant. Funding for the partnerships that make Los Angeles the model school-based arts programs for the nation has fallen dramatically. We have survived, we can move forward, but we are not whole. And that hurts. It hurts each of us who cares about the arts. But more important it hurts kids.

I wish I could say LAUSD’s efforts to save arts education had been more successful. Measure E, LAUSD’s limited parcel tax, would have generated some of the needed funding and achieved over 50% of votes but fell far short of the 2/3 majority needed for the tax to be levied. The campaign to support Measure E was spirited but it was far too small. Even when we made the direct connection between Measure E and funding for Arts programming, it was hard to motivate the Arts community to support or engage in the campaign.

Taxes are always a hard sell, but these are hard times. And hard times necessitate difficult conversations. I understand that LAUSD is not always popular and we have injured the public’s trust over the years. But the Arts Programs are LAUSD. And so are other amazing programs that need public support. It is our responsibility to build an alternative narrative around arts programming in LAUSD. Today I ask each of you who believe in arts education to make the arts in LAUSD part of your elevator conversation, part of your grocery line conversation, part of your own blog and elists. I want you to talk about school-based arts programs with your family, with folks you wish were your family and with people you would never have in your family.

We must help people understand that the arts are not an elective. The arts are an essential component of our core curriculum. The arts open windows to literacy that would otherwise be closed. The arts connect children to school who would otherwise be lost. The arts are not a “nice addition” to the curriculum, they are the curriculum. And access to this curriculum should never, ever be determined by the zip code where you live.

Each of us had a Mike Mucci in our lives. Without Mucci I would have never known David Byrne or David Mamet. But more important I wouldn’t have known myself.

We live in the media arts capitol of the world. But literally in the shadows of Paramount Studios, arts programs for children in Hollywood schools wither under the worst economic crisis since the great depression. And that’s true across our city. Our young people carry burdens to school with them most of us could never imagine. They are hungry for an outlet. They are starving for a chance to express themselves in ways that could never be measured by a standardized test. They need a chance to give their stories voice. They need the arts in their schools more than ever. That means they need us.

This school year, please join me in supporting the arts in LAUSD. We are the ones our children are waiting for. Thank you.

 

For Mr. Zimmer's biography and additional information on the LAUSD School Board, please visit http://laschoolboard.org.