Tulare County did it, and we believe every county in California can do it! - A conversation with Kate Stover
How would you describe the County’s arts offerings before any changes took place?
In Tulare County, arts education programs have often varied greatly from district to district and community to community. Many of the area schools offer some type of instrumental music or band program and most have visual arts opportunities. However, few schools have ongoing theatre programs and only a handful of schools offer dance courses. The challenges Tulare County faces mirror those of other counties across the state. Over the last decade, arts programs have faced budget cuts and staffing shortages. Often, funding that was once earmarked for arts programs has been reallocated and highly qualified arts teachers are frequently hard to find. Yet, despite the challenges, many schools have tried their best to fit in the arts where they can and when they can.
What specifically led to increased attention on arts education?
Over the last three decades, as funding priorities have shifted, and legislation has changed at the state and federal levels, arts education programs have often taken the hardest hit. While California Education Code Sections 51210 and 51220 require instruction in the arts, not every student in the state, or in Tulare County, has equal access to an arts education. This disparity is often the most prevalent in the county’s small and rural schools where student populations are minimal, and resources are limited.
Understanding that access to high-quality arts education is a critical part of a well-rounded education for all students, in 2017, the Tulare County Office of Education (TCOE) received a grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to create the county’s first strategic arts education plan. The strategic plan would provide a roadmap for expanding arts education across Tulare County schools.
To make the strategic plan a reality, TCOE partnered with the California Alliance for Arts Education and over the course of the 2017-18 school year, the groups brought together a diverse cadre of educators, arts organizations, and community stakeholders to envision a new reality for arts education in Tulare County. The core planning team consisted of educators representing all five arts disciplines and all grade levels. Additionally, the group included partners from non-education sectors: health, business, workforce development, government, artists, non-profits, parents, and students.
We believe that every student in pre-kindergarten through grade twelve deserves equitable access to high-quality arts learning as part of a well-rounded education.
The work of the planning team was guided by an overarching vision – We believe that every student in pre-kindergarten through grade twelve deserves equitable access to high-quality arts learning as part of a well-rounded education. This vision became the foundation of the Tulare County Arts Master Plan (AMP).
The Arts Master Plan is a strategic roadmap detailing the expansion of arts and cultural programs in the county’s schools. The AMP is aligned with the goals of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and the eight state priorities in California’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). To advance arts education in Tulare County, the AMP focuses on two foundational cornerstones – Arts as Core and Arts for All – and four strategic directions:
- Educational Equity for All
- Social and Emotional Well-Being
- College, Career, and Civic Life Readiness
- Sustainable Systemic Change.
The strategic plan identifies goals and outcomes for planning, implementing, and sustaining high-quality arts learning experiences, both inside and outside of school. The AMP aligns the programs and departments operating within TCOE to the larger vision of arts education for all. The plan represents a commitment from the County Office to supporting high-quality standards-based arts education for years to come. The Arts Master Plan also defines a clear multi-year path to ensuring equitable access to the arts for all students, families, and communities in Tulare County.
What role has the data played, if any, in leading to increased student access and participation?
Throughout the strategic planning process, the AMP team reviewed the data housed on the Arts Education Data Project, as well as data collected from district surveys and interviews. When having conversations with district leaders, it is so important to highlight the data to demonstrate areas of success and areas for growth. The Arts Ed Data Project provides a wonderful window into what is happening in area schools and districts. It helps to reinforce the positives and to look deeper at the gaps. In Tulare County, data has also opened the door for conversations with non-traditional stakeholders such as the Health and Human Services Agency, the Workforce Investment Board, and the District Attorney. Conversations about how the arts can impact the whole child, the whole family, and the whole community are strengthened by data.
Describe the progress and how you are implementing your district arts plan?
Our first step after completing the Arts Master Plan was to continue the work of our newly developed planning team through the creation of the Tulare County Arts Coalition – CREATE TC. The goal of CREATE TC is to expand the opportunities provided for Tulare County schools and communities. Organizations involved in the CREATE TC Leadership Council include: Tulare County Office of Education, Tulare County Health and Human Services Agency, Tulare County Suicide Prevention Task Force, Tulare County Association of Governments, Tulare County Workforce Investment Board, Tulare County Museum, Arts Consortium – Tulare County’s Arts Council, College of the Sequoias, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. These agencies have committed to supporting the ongoing goal of increasing access to arts education opportunities in Tulare County.
What would you highlight for other Counties as something that is working for you and might work for them?
In Tulare County, our greatest success has come from building non-traditional sector partnerships. We’ve spent a great deal of time cultivating relationships with agencies and organizations beyond the arts and education realms. Taking the time to have conversations about the way that arts and creativity impact EVERY aspect of student, family, and community life has helped to build true public will for our work. When business and industry leaders begin to see the connections from their world to the arts, it strengthens their commitment to driving change. Together we can ensure that the arts matter for everyone.
Name of County: Tulare County
Contact Person: Kate Stover