What if every school had a full-time arts teacher?

Alison M Collins
May 30, 2019 · 5 min read

Last night we, Commissioners Lopez and Collins, presented a resolution to increase arts learning and access in SFUSD. This resolution would provide a full-time Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA) teacher in every K-5 school.

Gabriela Lopez integrates art in her classroom as a way to get to know her students and build community.

Here is why we need this resolution:

(Not quite) every student, every school, every day…

In 2006, our district announced a bold vision in its SFUSD Arts and Education Master Plan to offer students visual and performing arts instruction to “every student, in every school, every day.”

Now, thirteen years later, despite concerted efforts from many dedicated educators, our arts and music programs are still not reaching all SFUSD students.

This painting was modeled after a painting by Tyrus Wong a famous Chinese American watercolor artist and illustrator widely known for Bambi.

One good example

For example, only 64% of SFUSD schools participated in the annual SFUSD Arts Festival in 2019 (keep in mind, school participation is counted even if ONLY ONE student’s art is chosen from that school).

And, this event has a price tag of $90,000 but includes only 153 student artists out of SFUSD’s total 54,000 students! Even when student art is included, many families cannot attend due to work schedules and transportation issues.

And this is just one of many examples.

After many years of talking with teachers, families and students, it is becoming clear to us that the district’s current model of visual and performing instruction needs a change.

Currently, our district provides sites with a mix of itinerant visual art, music, theater and dance teachers who often teach at up to five schools per week and work with thousands of students.

With so little time at each school, they are limited in their ability to build relationships with students, fellow teachers, and families. This makes art integration with other content areas at each school difficult, and limits teachers ability to communicate with families.

Further, it makes it difficult to build partnerships with the amazing community arts providers in our city.

Also, visual and performing arts teachers have continually expressed concern over a lack of resources, appropriate teaching spaces, and scheduling challenges.

The students who need it the most aren’t getting access.

So, while our district may say our schools are providing arts instruction to all students, in reality it is not.

In fact, our data shows much of VAPA spending doesn’t reach the students who need it most.

According the district’s own analysis, in middle school, “The overall rate of participation by students in a VAPA elective is 68% … This is true for most student subgroups, with the exception of Hispanic/Latino (64%) and English Learners (48%).”

This is also what we are hearing from teachers and families of students with disabilities, who are often excluded from arts learning.

So here’s what happens: some schools make up the difference with the help of parents. Some parent organizations raise up to $400,000 a year and can help fill gaps with their own arts consultants. They also help their schools by donating time to manage arts activities and events.

This leads to equity issues across the district. Schools without parents to fundraise and donate time can’t provide quality arts programs.

One daughter did a portrait of her sister. When I look at it, it reminds me how much our kids depend on us to fight for them in our schools.

Equity can’t wait.

We must take action now to ensure our most underserved students get access to a high quality performing and visual arts education.

Arts Education is a right not a privilege!

First, we must become an Arts Equity District by adopting The Declaration of the Rights of All Students to Equity in Arts Learning.

A new model for arts education

Second, based on our experience as classroom teachers, art educators and community organizers, we propose a new model of arts education in SFUSD!

One of my favorite activities that never gets old! Inspired by my work at @innercityarts. Helping students build connections doing abstract art using lines and shapes as a guide

Some key proposals contained in the “Arts Access Resolution” are the following:

  • Adopt a Declaration of Rights for All Students to Access and Equity in Instruction in the Arts — All students deserve access to high quality, culturally relevant arts instruction!
  • Provide a centrally funded full-time VAPA arts educator at every K-5 site to provide a range of arts experiences;
  • Direct central office staff to work with UESF in designing a new PK-5 VAPA job description that empowers, recognizes and supports VAPA teachers as professional experts who serve in the following roles at their school sites: 1) arts integration specialists; 2) liaisons for community-based arts organizations; 3) coordinators for cultural arts celebrations;
  • Create Professional Learning Networks for VAPA classroom teachers and provide the necessary substitute days and compensation for them to collaborate with central office administrators and community arts experts in building out a K-12 scope and sequence for all major visual and performing arts disciplines;
  • Design opportunities for VAPA teachers, school communities, and especially families and students, to design arts pathways at all divisions (elementary — middle — high); which are geographically accessible and located across the city;

The Outcomes

This resolution would:

  • Improve support and accountability for arts implementation and integration. Site principals can more effectively evaluate and support site-based teachers, just as they manage other site staff, and the savings can be used to provide immediate and direct benefits to students and schools.
  • Create a more equitable structure for decision-making around arts education and include more voices; specifically families of the most underserved students (students learning English, students with disabilities; etc.) and the people closest to the work: VAPA teachers;
  • Allow more schools to celebrate student cultures and histories, support teachers in integrating fun and student-centered arts-integrated learning, and nurture the creativity of both students and educators in all our classrooms.
  • Maintain the current 4/5 grade instrumental music program and generalist VAPA program in fall of 2019 while planning occurs. We propose teachers could (and should) help with planning over the next year to provide recommendations or changes to make the K-5 arts and instrumental programs more accessible and equitable the following year;
  • Redirect the $1.4 million in administrative salaries in addition to other PEEF dollars currently used to fund centrally-focused projects to provide increased staffing at schools and instruments and arts supplies for students. Based on SFUSD’s own reports, the district is currently funding several centrally-focused arts initiatives that are underserving students who are learning English, receiving special education services, Black, Latinx and low-income.

As a future Ruth Asawa School of the Arts parent, and a former arts integration teacher, we are so excited about the vision we share for SFUSD schools. All children, no matter what race, skin color, home language, sexual orientation, gender identity or zip code deserve access to quality arts learning.

Read more about this topic on Alison Collins’ blog:

Alison M Collins

Written by

mom of twins. education nerd. public school warrior. reformed cat-lady. amateur urbanist. social justice addict. BLERD. & most recently Board of Ed Commissioner

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