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School District Scores High in Arts For All:

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) was named one of the five first vanguard districts in Los Angeles County’s Regional Blueprint for Arts Education: Arts For All (AFA) in the fall of 2003.

According to AFA documents and press release, “In September, 2002 the Los Angels County Board of Supervisors adopted the AFA Blueprint For Arts Education which is a 10-year strategic plan to restore dance, music, theatre and the visual arts to all Los Angeles County’s 80 school districts and Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE) classrooms in compliance with State of California Visual and Performing Arts Standards. AFA responds to California’s deficient and uneven arts education that began more than 25 years ago when Proposition 13 reduced local funding, forcing schools to cut back or eliminate programs and services. Many school districts have never been able to fully restore the arts to the core curriculum.

As an AFA vanguard district, SMMUSD established a committee comprised of its Visual and Performing Arts Coordinator, teachers, parents, local artists and members of the community that met monthly for a year and a half with a coach from the California Alliance for Arts Education to develop a comprehensive arts education policy and plan.

The committee evaluated district-wide arts programs and constructed a comprehensive K-12 arts education policy and a nine-year implementation plan to be achieved in three-year increments.

The SMMUSD Board of Education unanimously approved the arts education policy on January 20.

The District’s AFA plan targets the following nine areas: standards-based arts curriculum, instruction and methodology, student assessment, professional development, program administration and personnel, partnerships and collaborations, funding resources and facilities and program evaluation.

According to the County Office of Education, the District “is one of the few California districts with a full-time Arts Coordinator, a key AFA component.”

At a press conference on May 11, The County Arts Commission’s Arts Education Director Ayanna Higgins said that “SMMUSD is a tremendous example and model in terms of the work they’ve done. The amazing thing is despite the budget cutbacks and all the challenges that school districts are facing that there are districts like SMMUSD in the county that are willing to make this commitment.”

SMMUSD Superintendent John Deasy said, “Our investment in the arts is far and above anything comparable in California. We’ve invested in having faculty, rooms, and access to instruments and materials. We have a top notch program which we’ve maintained through all that’s happened all over the state of California.”

Deasy then noted that in order for students to be competitive and qualify for admission to California State University or the University of California, “They have to have a certain number of courses in the arts.”

Ed Trust West’s “opportunity index” measures students’ access to arts courses that counts both available courses and available seats in the courses on a scale from 0 to 1. SMMUSD was given a 1 meaning the district gives students “100 percent opportunity in the arts.”

The District’s Visual and Performing Arts Coordinator Tom Whaley pointed out at the press conference that to this point the District has had “no curriculum in the fine arts, but, owing to its participation in the AFA program, the staff is developing such a curriculum and will be meeting over the summer to finalize the draft.”

He wants to make SMMUSD the “first school district in the state that offers all four art disciplines to every child every day.”

Whaley also said that the District will receive $60,000 in matching funds from AFA over the next two years because of the District’s adoption of its Arts Education Plan.

Some of AFA’s funding derives from the Arts For All Pooled Fund which now has 11 partners.

The introduction to the District’s Arts Education Plan notes that research has shown arts education fosters creativity, benefits at-risk youth, motivates students, improves overall learning, grades and standardized test scores and deepens cross-cultural human understanding.AFA now has a website which is “a searchable online catalogue of standards – based arts programs that fit seamlessly into the school curriculum.”

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