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VAPA in transition :: Notes from our policy roundtable

notes from our September 6 Arts Education Policy Roundtable

This meeting was the first introduction of Sam Bass, the new director of the San Francisco Unified School District Visual and Performing Arts, to the arts education provider community. He was enthusiastic to introduce himself to the group and talk about his own leadership story and his goals for the position.

Bass began with baby pictures from when he was growing up in Jackson, Mississippi. He talked about his introduction to the arts and about joining the Dallas Mavericks ManiAACs (a hip-hop dance troupe of beefy men who entertain NBA fans during home games) and how he, “owned who I was as a person.” Bass became a music teacher and then moved to San Francisco (to join his future husband) with a job as an instructional coach with the SFUSD. Bass was principal at Phillip and Sala Burton High School, where he worked with the Bayview YMCA to develop the Burton Community Collaborative to coordinate the work of community partners at the school site. You could feel the audience perk up in reaction to this mention of fostering better communication and collaboration between schools and their community partners.

There is a lot happening around the arts at the SFUSD. San Francisco became an arts equity district in June 25 vote in support of a resolution from board of education commissioners Alison Collins (who was at today’s roundtable) and Gabriela Lopez.

National Arts Education

Week is night! You can participate in this national awareness campaign by making social media posts with the hashtags #BecauseOfArtsEd and #ArtsEdWeek. Americans for the Arts offers more resources here.

Create CA is marking the week with a big release of arts education data coming on Monday, September 9. They presented a webinar about plans for a full year of advocacy. Click here to watch their webinar, here to get the powerpoint slides, and here to read the Q&A. Our task for the fall will be to ask that each middle and high school add an art discipline to their course offerings. California has a 39% arts enrollment among secondary students, which is well below Ohio's 83% and Wisconsin's 97%. Our goal should be 💯%!

There is a lot happening around the arts at the SFUSD. San Francisco became an arts equity district in June 25 vote in support of a resolution from board of education commissioners Alison Collins (who was at today’s roundtable) and Gabriela Lopez.


The district is working toward full music access for all 4th and 5th graders. Instead of suggesting that families can rent instruments for students, the district has given up a full-time VAPA administrator to afford providing instruments for students at every site. Bass is actively engaged in the middle school redesign, and continues to make plans around the formation of a SFUSD Arts Center. He is working on moving the VAPA office to 135 Van Ness (future home of the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts and the proposed arts center).

Sam Bass often likes to where his

music hat to remind himself that

he is a teacher first.

The VAPA department is also trying to figure out how to make the annual arts festival more accessible by creating celebrations of student arts in locations in neighborhoods all over the city and not just at the Asian Art Museum. The department will also be continuing work on the Arts Education Master Plan refresh in coordination with Dr. Nicole Priestly who has just started work as the new Chief Academic Officer of the District. Follow the arts department @SFUSDVAPA on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. They recently posted pictures of new instruments being delivered to elementary schools across the district.

SFUSD Chief Academic

Officer Dr. Nicole Priestly


Working together

But our roundtable meetings aren’t just about the presenter - they are about bringing our community together to come up with solutions.

The crowd had a number of issues they wanted to discuss more. The ideas included:

  • Promote National Arts Education Week and demonstrate the effectiveness of arts education to parents and the community.

  • Special Education access to arts education

  • How can schools afford arts education programing (to programs like Golden Thread).

  • More movement education for K-5

  • Arts Festival - how to move from a central arts festival at the Asian Art Museum to a model that distributes the festival to all neighborhoods in the district.

  • Creating community collaboratives with arts providers at school sites.

  • Ensuring equitable access to admissions at Ruth Asawa School of the Arts

  • Connecting SFUSD challenges with those of other school districts

  • What is happening with MOSAIC and the SFUSD Arts Center

  • VAPA teacher recruitment

We formed three groups to brainstorm ideas about:

  1. Special education access to arts education,

  2. Equitable access to Ruth Asawa School of the Arts, and

  3. Collaborative / CBO + SFUSD Collaboration

Each group discussed challenges and potential ways that our community can address those challenges.


BREAK OUT: Special education access to arts education

Arts education can be particularly helpful for students who have difficulty learning in our default classroom systems, yet special education (SPED) students are often left out of arts programming. How can the arts education community better address this? *99% participation of special education inclusion students went with general education class, so many of their numbers are hidden in K-5 data

  • Middle school redesign

    • How can we ensure arts education access for all students?

  • “Resource Period” requirements (could replace arts class for special education students)

  • Arts integration could be a way into academic goals.

    • This will require teacher training

  • Performances / Exhibits of arts & arts integration

    • donation of public space by local arts organizations and collaborations could help.

  • Sustainability of collaborations from Elementary to Middle to High schools

  • Access to dreaming an arts future and envisioning a diverse arts future

    • Do students get exposure to the arts at a young age in a way that can help them see themselves becoming artists?

Special thanks to Leslie Price of SF Youth Theatre for acting as scribe for her group.

BREAK OUT: Equitable access to Ruth Asawa School of the Arts admissions Ruth Asawa School of the Arts is an amazing opportunity for students to center the arts in their education, but many students, and the adults who serve them, do not know about this opportunity or how to develop a portfolio to apply. While RASOTA has excellent representation of African American students (relative to the population of the district) and special education students, English language learners are among the populations who are underrepresented. Notes from the group Understand:

  • Limitations of Ruch Asawa

  • Other pathways to arts access in high school

    • What other schools offer strong arts programming?

Would be helpful to have visual map of what arts programming is offered where - PreK-HS

  • Distribution of the arts

  • Working to collect data - ongoing project

NOTE: Create CA has conducted the arts education data project to track arts offerings in middle schools and high schools while PEEF (Public Education Enrichment Fund) has been working to track what arts are offered at SFUSD elementary schools. Making sure educators have the ability to identify students with artistic skill/talents and then support them in applying to Ruth Asawa SOTA

  • Including BEACON programs and academic folks

Better communication with parents and arts educators

  • Easier to understand guidelines that are more accessible to parents

De-centralizing arts festival could help get information out. Outreach to 5th and 8th grade parents to help in decisions. Where are the gaps?

  • ELL and SPED students have less access

District is redesigning website

  • Hope that this does a better job of organizing the available information.


BREAK OUT: Collaborative / CBO + SFUSD Collaboration facilitation and notes by Aimee Espiritu To ensure that all organizations/participants in this breakout were represented Aimee facilitated a 90 sec round robin. Each person could share 1 of the following:

  • thought re: the collaborative model Sam discussed,

  • a pain point experienced by the org or teaching artist, or

  • a question

Academy of Art University - Currently my art student teachers aren’t able to do their student teaching in Elementary Schools, only MS and HS. Feedback → How can my institution advocate (at Sacramento) for this to be shifted? This creates a cycle for those art teachers who want to serve K-5, to not be able to move forward with who they would like to serve and then creates a barrier for them to get a job with the population they are passionate about. SF Performances - Is there a template or “a central audit” for VAPA happening in SFUSD schools that CBOs can access? It would be helpful for us to know and be able to provide different services, then schools, admin, teachers and CBOs are informed of what’s on site and what are the gaps or overlaps? If we make more visible the relationships that are happening CBOs and schools can have more traction, better hand off amidst admin/teacher and CBO turn over - having the ability to maintain connections over time.

Second District PTA - We provide school tours for students, communicate to families and schools what is offered and possible. But they don’t know what VAPA is. How can SFUSD’s VAPA Department work within school environments? PTAs have money to add to art programs and attempt to piece meal “gaps” but at the same time the landscape isn’t always clear for us to know if the “gaps” we’re filling are providing the most impact. How do we move with VAPA vision and systems at the center? Then we could collectively use the resources of the community.

North Bay YouthArts - How do we not waste resources? How do we create a collaborative community where everyone is considered when it comes to the students needs - is there an aligned vision or best fit? Could this be better alleviated by having VAPA educators/leads at each site, taking into consideration their students best interests? Question: Does SFUSD have a plan to have VAPA educators/leads at all ES, MS, and HS?

Young Audiences - We don’t know what each other (CBOs) does, how can we have a true do date (not aspirational) offerings audit. Which org is at what school and what grades are being served? Can we access each others’ rosters of work to know what are we duplicating, where are we not overlapping? Recommendation: Check out the Presidio Trust open house for SFUSD Teachers. CBOs table at the event. It’s a great complementary model to look at for the January Art Education Resource Fair.

Lacuna Arts, Sven - In what ways can I bring access & equity to schools - combining VAPA disciplines collaboratively? Where is the need? Lacuna means bridging the gap, so how do we do this in the most effective way?

CJM - How do we get students into museums? It’s free! We’re able to fill some of the holes and supplement what’s happening in the classrooms? This is a field trip but teachers are saying no - is it a lack or interest? Lack of public transportation (we’re public transpo/muni/bart accessible)? Lack of coordination? (Easier for K-5, much harder for MS and HS due to multiple teachers impacted). To make it more realistic, would it be more appealing to have a full-day field trip with multiple museum visits in 1 day?

SF Opera - How can this collaborative promote better communication between CBOs, their offerings and teachers? What programming do your students really need/want? What is the mechanism to ask and receive this information?

SF Ballet - We’re in 40 schools in SFUSD, serving predominantly 2nd and 3rd graders. How can we better get classroom teachers on board? I know they have a lot on their plates and most are at capacity already. How can this collaboration best enhance what’s happening and not a burden?

826 Valencia - We have more demand than capacity at the moment. It’s less literary and it’s asking us to move away from creative writing and theater. When we partner with ELA it’s a lot of expository and persuasive essay writing, or personal statement support. How can we best ask schools what they need re: VAPA? What is the balance of serving/providing the teachers with the collaboration they need/want while still grounding the integration of our work in our creative discipline(s)?

The conversation continues in the comments! What can we do next? What questions do you have?

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