Justice in Education

Posted by Lara Davis, Jun 05, 2015 2 comments

Across the country, communities are calling for justice in education. High stakes testing, disproportionate discipline by race, and the mass closing of public schools in certain regions profoundly impact the lives of young people. In an environment where education reform, vouchers, charter schools, and increased accountability dominate the landscape, what does it mean to impact the very heart and bureaucratic structure of public school districts and build trust, equity, and meaningful change?

Seattle Public Schools (SPS) is not alone in the fight for a more meaningful and equitable approach to education. We are also not alone in valuing the arts and how a truly integrated, culturally relevant arts education can enhance student voice and prepare young people for success now and into the future, and fuel our creative economy. But we are unique in how we are working within government bureaucracy, the District, and the arts community to make the dream of arts in every school for every student a reality.

In Seattle we are navigating the minefield of art in public education; everyone says they want it and value it, but actually integrating arts into classrooms takes more than conversations, grants, PTA fundraisers, or ballot measures. It takes the will of district leadership, engaged teachers, arts organizations, students, their families and communities, and teaching artists to band together to make it happen. What policies and practices the district may adopt, individual schools and their communities may not. Everyone from the grassroots to the boardroom has to own it and move the work forward. This includes authentic community partnership and engagement, and keeping the perspectives of young people central in our efforts.

Change, true change, is a collective tidal wave made of many voices and multiple approaches.

District level: To meet the obligation of arts access for every student, we are transforming Seattle Public School’s central office to support regional K-12 arts learning pathways -- addressing both a structural and cultural shift towards comprehensive and sequential learning for all students. A long-standing partnership between the District, the Seattle Arts Commission and Office of Arts & Culture resulted in restoring the SPS Visual and Performing Arts Curriculum and Instruction Manager staff position. In addition a key member of our arts education partnership was promoted to SPS Director of School and Community Partnerships, making arts planning and instruction accountable and giving it a voice at the highest level of leadership in the district.

Schools: Regional arts planning, followed by individual school arts planning, brings principals, teachers, and community partners to the table to flesh out a vision and plan for staffing, partnerships, teacher professional development, and integrated arts learning for students.

City-wide partnerships: We are providing funding to support principals as arts leaders, increased arts staffing and materials, coordinated alignment of community arts partnerships, common professional development for teachers and arts partners on 21st Century skills, regional and school arts planning, and evaluation.

One organization, school district, leader or student can’t do it all. We are a community and to make arts education in our schools a reality we needed to draw strength from our connections, and our collective resources. We’ve created a comprehensive Seattle K-12 Arts Plan, now known as The Creative Advantage, focused on increasing access to high-quality arts education for all of the District’s 50,000+ students. Informed by 2000+ community stakeholders and extensive arts access data, The Creative Advantage calls for an increase in certified arts staff and enhanced central supports to schools, as well as coordination of school-community arts partnerships in support of the District’s goals.

Our plan, the Creative Advantage, is addressing systemic barriers to student access to arts and ensuring that every student at every SPS school has the opportunity to learn through the arts every year, K-12. For the Creative Advantage, learning through the arts means:

  • Instruction from certified arts teachers (e.g. minimum of 120 minutes per week in music and visual arts, K-5)
  • Integrated arts instruction in K-5, 6th and 9th grade classrooms and infused arts training for teachers
  • Arts partnerships with community-based artists at every school, every year
  • Opportunities to connect arts to careers at the secondary level through media arts skills centers
  • Culturally relevant and responsive arts instruction that teaches sequential artistic skills and techniques and develops students’ 21st Century skills of creativity, critical thinking, communication, collaboration, growth mind-set and perseverance

We have just started on this ambitious journey, but we aren’t going it alone, we have the collective will of the city, business, nonprofits, government, teachers, artists, students, and families to really make Seattle’s approach to arts education a model for other cities throughout the country and change the conversation of why arts, to how.

2 responses for Justice in Education


jesse says
June 09, 2015 at 10:53 am

It's so frustrating that providing arts education, especially in public schools, is such an uphill battle. It should be as important as any other discipline and is crucial to a well-rounded learning experience.

  • Please login to post comments.
June 13, 2015 at 9:31 am

Lara, Exciting to read about the path that Seattle School districts is on. I am one of the former directors of School of the Future in Manhattan, NYC. There was a window of about 7 years where we achieved much of what you are speaking with the funding of George SOros's foundation TASC and the absolute support, for a period, of the Department of Education.

School of the Future is a public school grades 6-12, 10 story building and first roof top garden on top of a school. The incredible programming and curriculum that comes from having parents, student leaders, local teaching artists, businesses in the city, teachers and administrators is incredible!

Yes it will produce students who are confident to share ideas/speak their truths and be part of other communities. It also yields a teaching staff who is happy and more creatively fulfilled as they get to teach more of what inspires them, and be more creative within their curriculum/disciplines
Most of all, you are correct it takes Boards, Principals, parents and Community Based Organizations to agree on the direction.

Lastly it also takes teachers and principals to have a high STANDARDS of accountability and performance!!! EVEN as they are being so called creative.

As the main arts administrator, I required that teachers present "technique" as well as exploration, and finally it was required that in each art form classes had to take at least 2 field trips each semester connecting with the plethora of businesses that do the very art form they teach. OR the could simply share with the community at large

Wishing you all the best. It is possible. The outcome is what you imagine... grounded, productive, creative and most of the time pleasant citizens!
Keep pushing!!!
Keep visioning!
You will arrive there
Mitzi Sinnott

  • Please login to post comments.