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The Challenges of Partnerships :: an Arts Education Policy Roundtable recap

Updated: Apr 19, 2021

Every two months, we hold a gathering of arts educators for an arts education policy roundtable. On December 1, 2017, we met underneath Peter Ilyin's 1938 oil paintings of San Francisco's waterfront in room 125 of the Veteran's Building to discuss what makes for successful partnerships with public schools.

First, Ruth Grabowski and Stefanie Eldred of the San Francisco Unified School District Community Schools and Family Partnerships office presented a slide show about partnerships with the SFUSD.

Ruth stressed that our partnerships are an important process for equity in the school district. Stephanie noted that many school sites don't realize how ripe the arts are for connecting all the important elements that schools need and strive for.

SFUSD's Vision 2025 plan has identified 6 capabilities that graduates will need to thrive in the future.

While many see the arts as important for #5, creativity, we know that the arts are a highly effective means to achieve #4 and #6 as well.

Lorraine Orlandi, the all-star Community School Coordinator at Paul Revere K-8 school, continued the presentation with effective strategies for building school and community. One key: plan as close to the student as possible. Work with teachers and parents. Think about the bigger picture at a school - the arts can be THE way to teach all the really important things.

Next, Michelle Holdt of Arts Ed Matters and the San Mateo County Office of Education spoke about how a teaching artist visit can have a more lasting impact when they keep the classroom teacher engaged and demonstrate arts integration techniques.

For instances, throw in thirty seconds of meta. Notes by Todd Berman

I told a story, students acted it out. It took two minutes to say to the teachers: This is called embodied cognition: it increases retention, vocabulary, etc. Teachers nodding. I ask- How was this different for you? They’re completely engaged, lots of answers. Then I say, This took five minutes of your day.

Authenticy matters:

Who’s closer to the students? The teachers, teaching artists and parents are the closest. Authenticity and transparency, and the importance of showing up as both an artist and as a person. I’m speaking to you teachers about this. The more you show up and show who you are, they more the students will trust you and show up for you, because the students are then more able to be their authentic selves.
"Also showing up are the parts of our lives that are difficult. In all the districts, I put effort into meeting with the district superintendents, everyone. I care about the person, and letting them know who I am. I love this kind of thing where we’re all sitting together.
"I’ve seen a shift in the SFUSD with more people working together. The importance of intentionality, embedded artists, and the arts as a process for equity."
“Exercise: “One Word” Michelle gave the group a question and we each answered in one word or phrase, no repeats. Question: What’s the motivating force behind what you do?

Answers: development of the whole child, open mind, empowering students, no best practices in a box, connecting to the vultnerable resource, voice, break ceilings, representation, teachers & students, paying it forward, social mobility, playing’s the first way we learn, social justice. ”

Breakout Groups

The presentations were preludes to the deeper discussions. We counted off into four groups to talk about our challenges and successes, then each group gave their report.

Notes from Breakout Groups

  • Time is required to build partnerships

  • We need to be ready for feast and famine cycles

  • Doing piecemeal arts education vs integrating it into the curriculum

  • Find balance between PEEF funding and district and community funding

Group Report

  • Having a good advocate at a site, who knows the terrain is essential. Logistics advocate too.

  • Speaking to PTA and beyond- African Am council, Eng language partner, community partnership

  • Face-to-face meetings, even just for 5 or 10 min, can establish stronger connections. Take the opportunity to deliver paperwork in person to make a personal connection.

Group Report

  • Our Challenges were when a school doesn’t have a shared vision around the arts.

  • Teachers being stressed by so much going on, not having enough support.

  • Equity- for free programs, even when thoughtfully built to support the district’s initiative, they often can’t get there.

  • As coordinator, seeing that newer teachers don’t often understand their role

Group Report:

  • AEABA and ability to form relationships

  • Have dialogue around goals, mission

  • Unexpected partnerships

  • Challenges: how orgs interact with the district, changing rules & guidelines


The Arts Education Alliance of the Bay Area can help by:

  • coordinating professional development workshops,

  • keep our members informed about district guidelines,

  • recognize the school-site heroes who make successful partnerships happen, and

  • track data to understand which students are not being served.

This post was created with significant assistance from notes by Nicole Sumner of Artways Playways. Email [email protected] to learn about her workshop, "Hard Wired to Play: A Course Exploring the Specturm of Play as if Your Leanring and Mental Health Depended on it."

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