Principal Stephanie Harris on LAUSD Arts Ed

Principal Stephanie Harris, recently of Short Avenue Elementary School and now assigned to 54th Street Elementary School, presented the following to the LAUSD School Board at the Committee of the Whole on January 19, 2010.

54th Street Elementary School My name is Stephanie Harris, recently assigned as the principal of 54th Street Elementary School in Local District 3 and Board District 1. Four years ago, we were a program improvement school, but with much hard work, self-reflection and dedication to our students, stakeholders, curriculum, and standards, our API has grown 137 points and we have consistently met AYP.  As a result we have come out of PI status and have become a leading academic institution in our community. We were recognized by Mitchell Landsberg, Doug Smith, and Howard Blume in their January 10 article in the Los Angeles Times for our consistent growth, almost catching up to View Park Preparatory Accelerated Charter School in Language Arts and equaling it in mathematics. Today, we are a proud candidate for the 2010 California Distinguished School award.

But today I have come before you to speak about my former school, Short Avenue Elementary School in Local District 3/Board District 4, and the impact that a wonderful and effective Arts program is having on the community, students, enrollment, and academic achievement.  At the same time I want to emphasize that, to borrow a phrase, "The Arts Are NOT Elective!" and that what is happening at Short Avenue School must happen at ALL schools.

Short Avenue Artwork I became principal of Short Avenue in November of  2005. Short Avenue was then and continues as a schoolwide Title 1 program in a PHBAO school. Our enrollment was stagnating and many of our neighborhood parents were enrolling their children in private schools or schools outside of the District. Many of the parents who stayed in LAUSD sought magnet schools or permits to other West L.A. schools. The community felt that we had little to offer their children beyond a committed staff that worked hard and gave their very best. We established a collaborative group of stakeholders consisting of parents, faculty, staff, students, and community members  who set out to build up our school. Together we began to revitalize interest in our school; our API grew, we beautified our campus, and began to promote our school to the community (see example of campus artwork at right, designed by Jeffrey Wilkie).  Despite these efforts and adding 6th grade, much to the delight of our parents, the one question that kept coming up at prospective parent meetings was: "What kind of arts program do you offer?" All I could offer was a choral music program.

Now, don't get me wrong, in September of 2005, we were assigned an exceptional choral music teacher,  Colleen Cronin.  She took a group of students with meager vocal abilities and started with the basics. Year after year, I watched our students grow into an outstanding choral group capable of singing complex harmonies and singing rounds with rhythm and movement. I also watched the chorus grow larger and larger as more and more students joined in.  Because of Mrs. Cronin's expertise, she has even been able to identify potentially gifted students. Our choral program became the center piece and the draw for many of our parents, but still they asked, "What additional arts programs can we get?" as they continued to compare our school to all of the options available to them.

Our API continued to grow at a modest rate, as we provided high quality first instruction, used data to drive our instruction and intervention, and used reflective cycles of instruction. Then in 2007, we became an APS School via the Arts Education Branch from whom we gained credentialed dance, theatre, and visual arts teachers.  These teachers, though only part-time at my school provided outstanding instruction in the various arts with direct correlations to Open Court, often making reading come alive for some of our most struggling students and allowing them to make connections to the curriculum in ways that some had never done before.  Student morale was very high, disciplinary issues were almost non-existent.  The only thing that was introduced that year was the arts program and nobody wanted to miss dance, art, music, or drama! No new intervention programs, no increase in Title 1 spending, no new textbooks in reading or math, no new core teachers...just art.  Yet we were all stunned when our API shot up 44 points that year! Again, nothing was new to our school except for the arts!  Could art have had such a significant impact on student achievement?  I absolutely think so.

We adopted the notion that "The Arts Are Not An Elective."  The parents at Short Avenue do not think they are elective either.  With a growing API and the infusion of art back into the curriculum, community parents are returning to their neighborhood school ...not charter schools, not private schools, not magnet schools, but their neighborhood school!

Erika Ross, a Short Avenue parent and champion of arts in the elementary school, has found a way to go in late to her full time public-mental-health job once a week to add movement and dance classes for the kindergartners.  She has raised money from Fox Studios to create afterschool art clubs and coordinated with the local arts magnet schools to provide assemblies free of charge.  She has created a committee of parents, teachers, and administrators called "The Arts Are Not Elective!" And, she has supported the part-time music, dance, theater, and visual arts teachers who currently work at the school.

Unfortunately, at 54th Street School, I do not have a parent like Erika Ross to champion the arts at my school.  But I DO have the APS program with part-time credentialed teachers in art, dance, and drama.  I DO have an orchestral music program.  Because of the limited time I get with my arts teachers this year, I cannot provide instruction to as many students as in the past, so the impact is not as great as it has been in the past.  I, like Erika Ross, The Arts Are Not Elective Committee, and the stakeholders at Short Avenue and 54th Street School believe very strongly that EVERY elementary school MUST have orchestral and vocal music, visual arts, theatre, and dance available during the school day and available to EVERY student in the school.

The mission of our District is to graduate students who are college ready and this means meeting A-G requirements. To graduate from high school, students MUST meet Requirement F which is one year of Visual or Performing Art - This is NOT an elective, it is a requirement.  If art, like math, literacy, and science are important enough to be high school graduation requirements; then art, like math, literacy, and science must be supported K-12.  The arts must be available to all students in all schools, not just those in magnet and charter schools or in schools with the abundant and relentless efforts of a parent group.

I respectfully submit to you that art is integral to our student achievement, morale, and attendance: key factors in improving our ADA, and that it serves as an equalizer for children across all ability and socio-economic levels.  It is an essential tool for English Language Learners, Standard English Learners, and students with disabilities to connect with and master subject area content.  Finally, it is often a deciding factor when parents choose schools for their children.

Thank you for your support of the Arts Program as it is vital to our instructional program and the future of our students.

Stephanie Harris
Principal, 54 Street Elementary School