Sonoma Valley Sun


SV School District to expand, prioritize arts curriculum

Posted on December 5, 2023 by Sonoma Valley Sun

By Connie Schlelein | Sonoma Valley Sun —

Something unusual happened at the SVUSD School Board Meeting; ripples of excitement occurred as the Strategic Arts Education Plan was presented by Co-Chairs of Creative Bridges, Cheryl Coldiron and myself, Connie Schlelein. 

During the public comments, enthusiastic community members, parents, and teachers spoke eloquently in support of the innovative five-year proposal. With the goal of improving and expanding Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA) education equitably for every TK-12 public school student in Sonoma Valley, Creative Bridges has worked behind the scenes for the last several years towards this goal. 

As Solution Partners, this alliance of 40+ local nonprofits, organizations led by the district VAPA teachers, will help the district strategically prioritize how to best use the new state money earmarked for arts education. 

Catherine Markham, 3rd Grade Teacher at El Verano, shares ideas with Visual and Performing Arts Teachers, staff and community members to develop the Strategic Arts Education Plan.

As early as this spring, SVUSD will receive $456,961 every year, forever, specifically for visual and performing arts education for public school students. The money, for new teachers and supplies, was authorized with the passage of Prop 28. 

Board President Anne Ching said that such an arts plan is overdue. “In our district, the arts have been an afterthought. I’d like to encourage the board to put our money where our mouth is. We have not prioritized the arts in the past, we need to really think about how we can start to prioritize the arts from now on.” 

A variety of speakers from the community shared personal stories about the importance of arts education in their own and their children’s lives. Linda Keaton, executive director of the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, said, “With the arts, you are only limited by what you can dream. Arts education allows students to solve problems and reach solutions that may not look like everyone else’s solutions. Putting a VAPA leadership team in place to manage this plan is a great first step.” 

Amee Alioto, dance teacher at Adele Middle School, said, “This is the first thing in a long time that gives me hope, because I know the power of the arts. Kids thrive with the arts. I know that with this plan, there is a path forward.” 

Yuliana Camarena, site manager of La Luz’s Family Resource Center, spoke about the enthusiasm for the plan by the El Verano parents, who were watching the presentation on Zoom. They are eager for the district to provide quality visual and performing arts education for their elementary children, she said.

The plan also has considerable district support to rebuild arts education from the ground up. SVUSD Superintendent Dr. Jeanette Rodriguez-Chien said, “All students deserve high quality arts education. We want our students to explore their creative potential and the possibilities that the arts can have in their lives in the long-term.” 

When the plan is formally adopted next month, it promises to positively affect students starting as soon as the 2024-2025 school year. 

“By endorsing a strategic arts plan, our schools will become even more reflective of our artistic community,” said Trustee Troy Knox. “We will give students more opportunities to authentically express themselves, develop their creative talents, and broaden their perspectives in other disciplines through an arts lens.” 

Trustee John Kelly greeted the presentation with enthusiasm. “There are a lot of nights when being on this board is not fun, but this is one of the fun nights. This is what gets you to run for the board, this is what gets you excited, this is why we do this – for the kids,” he said. “This plan is a WOW.” 

Trustee Catarina Landry agreed. “This sparked joy in my heart. [The plan] gives our kids and teachers a way to re-engage their love for learning. This plan is inspirational and revolutionary.” 

The plan pulls all the entities of this Valley out of their silos to work together, said Trustee Celeste Winders. “Those silos are significant barriers, not just for the district but as a Valley community. We have organizations that exist in silos, duplicated services, and gaps in services.” 

There is significant national research which shows that the arts are important not only for students’ social and emotional development, but for their cognitive growth as well. School VAPA programs encourage students to find innovative solutions, inspire their critical thinking, integrate the different core subjects, and cultivate their leadership and abilities to collaborate. 

National statistics show that students who are provided arts classes are more likely to have better attendance, graduation rates, and engagement; have higher standardized test scores; and be more motivated to attend post-secondary schools. 

Lucky elementary music students – they are now only able to have music once a week for 1/2 of the school year. There is now only 1 elementary music teacher in the district and only 1 in the secondary schools – down from 5 just a few years ago.

The proposal calls for a five-year timeline which will ultimately provide TK-12 visual arts, dance, music, theater, and media education for every student. California law mandates standards-based instruction in grades K-12 in dance, music, theater, and visual arts. 

The great news is that now there’s money to support this plan – Californians voted in record numbers last November in favor of California Proposition 28, a state-wide constitutional change for arts education. 

SVUSD will receive $456,961 annually, specifically for visual and performing arts education for public school students. Eighty percent of that money must be spent hiring credentialed teachers. The team’s plan suggests hiring one VAPA Leader and three Elementary Visual and Performing Arts Teachers to start. 

The remaining 20% of the Prop 28 money must be used for supplies, etc. The team’s plan suggests using the funds to restore neglected arts classrooms, instruments, and upgrading equipment and performing arts spaces. 

Annual Prop 28 funds will start the rebuilding of an arts education ecosystem that was severely damaged in 1977 by Proposition 13, causing California’s education systems to fall from 5th in the country to 48th now. The first cuts were to dance, music, theater, and visual art education and no arts programs ever fully recovered. 

After 45 years of neglect, with thoughtful strategic arts education planning, every student will develop the skills to grow their creativity and find their own “voice.” 

Starting last January, professional SVUSD arts educators took the lead in creating the plan, looking at gaps, redundancies, scope, and sequence, and inequities between elementary schools for their basic arts educational programs. 

The team was made up of a dance, media, theater arts, and visual arts teacher, and two music teachers, as well as elementary teachers, administrators, and community members. Joining them were students, parents, representatives, and E.D.s from nonprofits, and even the mayor. 

The resulting recommendation is to rebuild the arts education programs starting at the foundation – at the elementary level. By providing every elementary child with VAPA classes every week of the school year, the survey determined, the positive effects will then flow upward to help the secondary VAPA programs. 

The Roadmap has 10 key action items, starting with creating a VAPA leadership team, asset mapping, community, parent and student surveys, facilities review, and curriculum development.

Since 2019, eleven Sonoma County school districts have adopted strategic arts education plans to improve their district’s TK-12 arts education. In 2022, the Creative Bridges team won a planning grant for SVUSD for $7,500, which jump-started the work. 

Backed by the Creative Bridges alliance, the district is now well positioned for major national grant opportunities.

“We now have an extraordinary opportunity to maximize all resources of the district and community to achieve this together,” said co-founder Cheryl Coldiron. “We need to ensure that every student is happier, healthier, and can thrive in their present and future lives.” 

Trustee Knox complimented the work of the Strategic Arts Education Writing Team. “We owe you a debt of gratitude. Thank you for inspiring us. You serve as a model for our district as we move forward with a strategic plan. I haven’t ever seen or been part of anything like this. You have my trust and I’m sure you have the board’s trust. Congratulations.”


Sonoma Sun | Sonoma, CA