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After years of cuts, LA Unified reveals plans to restore arts education

Shana Habel, Los Angeles Unified's Dance Demonstration Teacher, leads a class of teachers at Cortines high school.
Shana Habel, Los Angeles Unified's Dance Demonstration Teacher, leads a class of teachers at Cortines high school.
Mary Plummer/KPCC
Shana Habel, Los Angeles Unified's Dance Demonstration Teacher, leads a class of teachers at Cortines high school.
A group of LAUSD teachers take a break from dancing to listen to instruction on how to teach art integration. The teachers attended a teacher training program at Cortines high school in June.
Mary Plummer/KPCC
Shana Habel, Los Angeles Unified's Dance Demonstration Teacher, leads a class of teachers at Cortines high school.
Music Demonstration Teacher Paul Strand, who works for L.A. Unified, talks with teachers about how music lessons can be integrated with other subjects like Math, English and History.
Mary Plummer/KPCC

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It's summer break, but classes were still in session at the Ramón C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts -- at least for teachers.

They packed into the school's classrooms two weeks ago for a summer training program by the Los Angeles Unified School District on arts integration. Incorporating arts into other lessons is a key component in the district’s new arts plan.

In one session, music instructor Paul Strand tried to connect the dots for a group of teachers by asking this:

"What is the natural connection between music and which of our four disciplines?"

"Math," several of them chimed in.

"Ok, there it is," Strand said, encouraged.

The plan, which district officials have shared with the board and will post publicly later this month, calls for some P.E. teachers to teach introductory courses in dance and Language Arts teachers at some schools to take on theater instruction.

Teachers will be encouraged to teach integrated lessons – where art is taught alongside a subject like Math or English.

For example, a physics discussion on the laws of motion could center around a dance move that students practice themselves.

Or, as Strand suggested, using a 1930s piece of music as text for a social studies lesson.

The 44 page plan follows a measure approved by the school board in October to make the arts a core subject. It's an effort to restore arts in the district and return funding for arts education to 2007-08 levels of $34 million. That's nearly twice the $18.4 million the district spent in 2011-12. Thousands of students currently receive no arts education.

Highlights from the new plan include:

Steven McCarthy, the district's K-12 Arts Coordinator, said one reason arts integration is at the core of the plan is to safeguard arts education from future cutbacks. 

"I live in the real world and I know that the economic cycle will turn around once again," he said. "What I’m hoping to leave as my legacy is a sustainable program."

McCarthy hopes that arts will become such a fundamental part of teaching methods, that they’ll be safe from the budget ax.

Teachers at the training were very supportive of arts integration, but several said it adds to a growing list of requirements.

"I'm feeling overwhelmed right now," said sixth grade teacher Brett Drugge. He listed recent changes within the district that have him feeling stressed: iPads in the classroom, teacher evaluations, a switch to national Common Core standards and testing. 

"The list is pretty long as far as all this new reform coming into the classroom," he said.

Theater teacher Karen Robinson cited other concerns, like getting school principals to support arts integration.

"First it’s getting teachers past the fear and the discomfort in the unfamiliar and then helping them to get the support from administration to make the time," she said.

The district plans to provide arts integration training for 800 teachers by the end of the coming school year. Administrator trainings are also in the works.

The district hasn’t released a detailed timeline for the new arts plan, but some changes will begin this fall.

Kerry Buchman has been working as a full-time substitute since the district cut her job as a roving elementary art teacher.

She supports arts integration but is worried that it may push things like learning violin to the sidelines.

"There's always a fear that when you integrate arts into the general classroom that it might mean that the arts sort of disappear," she said.

In the plan, the district addresses that concern. "Arts integration will be an expansion of, not a substitute for, sequential comprehensive curriculum and instruction in dance, music, theatre, and visual arts."

The district will release a budget to accompany the plan later this summer. 

United Teachers Los Angeles Chapter Chair Ginger Rose Fox heads the arts committee for the teachers' union. She said she's eager to see details of the plan.

"We should have equitable access to all kids," she said, noting that in her opinion charter schools have been able to teach the arts at a much greater level than traditional schools in the district. "We want to have the same quality offered in every school."

LAUSD Arts Education and Creative Cultural Network Plan by scprweb