Teaching Artists Help a School District Restore Arts Education

Posted by Erika Boardman Kraft, Jun 18, 2014 3 comments

Laura Norman Laura Norman

Erika Boardman Kraft Erika Boardman Kraft

Can the work teaching artists do in school districts impact a district’s long-term arts programming?  Absolutely!, as illustrated by the Twin Rivers Unified School District in northern Sacramento, California.

Founded in 2008 when four districts merged, Twin Rivers Unified School District saw more than $100 million in state cuts during its first three years of existence. This exacerbated an already difficult situation for arts education in the district composed of primarily Title I schools.  Most elementary schools had no credentialed arts specialists in any of the disciplines. Middle schools had a few arts education offerings, often available only as electives, and the arts programming in the high schools varied by school, but did not come close to matching what more affluent districts in the region could offer or what the state mandates.

In spite of this, the district’s arts education leadership was determined to provide what arts education programming they could, using resources from the local arts community. They brought in programming from the region’s arts organizations, found grants to take students to arts events, and contracted with regional teaching artists for residencies and workshops.

Under the leadership of Arts Curriculum Facilitator Jacqueline White, the district leveraged its collaboration with local teaching artists to set a course for re-instating arts education programming in all of its 50 schools. The District engaged teaching artists through independent relationships nurtured in the community, through Federal Department of Education grants utilizing teaching artists, and through its role as a founding partner of the Kennedy Center’s initiative, Any Given Child Sacramento. In addition,  the District partners with the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission and others to host regular professional development opportunities that bring classroom teachers, administrators and teaching artists together to share perspectives, nurture teachers’ arts-specific skills, develop and strengthen collaborations, and build a culture that values arts education district-wide.

“Arts education is an integral part of a child’s development and ability to become college and career ready”, says Jacqueline White.  “Artists bring a different lens to each student’s perception of the arts.  The diverse backgrounds artists bring are a testimony to students about the endless possibilities the arts offer.  Artists help students see a place for themselves in the world regardless of the students’ other strengths.”

Along with Superintendent Dr. Steven Martinez and other staff committed to arts education, these teaching artists have helped increase appreciation for how important arts education is for every student. Recently, the District’s board approved a Strategic Plan to provide sequential arts learning for students aged Pre-K through Adult. It includes goals to include arts integration as core instructional practice and secure funding sources that will keep arts programs sustainable.  In line with providing regular daily arts education experiences for all students, Twin Rivers is hiring a total of 24 arts specialists for new choral music, general music, and visual arts positions for the 2014-15 school year. Their strategic Visual and Performing Arts plan includes an additional 18 positions to be filled in 2015-16, and 9 more in 2016-17.

Teaching artists helped pave the way for these positions to be created in the district, demonstrating the impact of strong arts teaching on student engagement, and critical and creative thinking.  As the goals of the district plan are reached, different opportunities for teaching artists will  emerge to enrich the daily arts instruction these students will receive. Teaching artists working in school settings can help bring about change at the district level!

Erika Boardman Kraft is Education Director for the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission, and a member of the governing board of Teaching Artists Support Collaborative of California.  Laura Norman is Arts Program Associate for the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission.

3 responses for Teaching Artists Help a School District Restore Arts Education


June 18, 2014 at 4:15 pm

This is an important reminder that teaching artists can play an invaluable support role, but never replace the value of full-time arts teachers. Ideally, community partners should supplement but not substitute for a district investment in arts teachers. In cases like the one highlighted, the involvement of teaching artists can highlight the value of the arts and inspire districts to invest more of their own resources. At The Music Center, we see ourselves in a similar catalytic role, always seeking to increase district commitment and capacity to provide quality arts education.

  • Please login to post comments.
July 03, 2014 at 4:29 pm

I am glad to know that Twin Rivers USD is providing a quality arts education plan for all students throughout the elementary, junior high, and high school. Students require the foundation of arts learning before they enter high school to set the stage for limitless possibilities in the arts.

  • Please login to post comments.
Sandy Seufert says
June 26, 2014 at 12:45 am

Thank you for sharing this, Erika. I really enjoyed reading the detail you shared and how the teaching artists worked in concert with the credentials arts specialists.

  • Please login to post comments.