Parents, teachers and local artists expressed their support for a plan to expand Austin ISD's fine arts programs and facilities based on the results of a nine-month John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts audit and needs assessment.
At a meeting Sept. 20, attendees agreed that bringing more fine arts opportunities to AISD is both welcome and overdue. Many voiced questions and concerns such as whether all students in the district will receive access to fine arts classes and how transportation will be provided to students who want to participate.
Improving fine arts education as part of the Any Given Child program is one of Austin ISD's potential 2013–14 Annual Academic and Facility Recommendations. The program would begin with one vertical team—a network which comprises a high school and the elementary and middle schools that feed into it—and expand throughout the district during a 10-year period, affecting every school, AISD Fine Arts Director Greg Goodman said.
“I want it clear, we want that districtwide,” Goodman said. “You have kids that may decide early on that, 'I want to be a dancer.' And they may need an outlet like McCallum [High School]. At the same time if I'm on the south side of town, I want those kids to be able to access something as equal as what they have here. Education today does some wonderful things, and we pour a lot of money into a lot of projects. But what's exciting about this particular initiative is that it changes kids' lives of all cultures.”
District schools aim to reach Any Given Child
In 2011, the Kennedy Center chose Austin for Any Given Child, which establishes a long-term arts education plan for students in kindergarten through eighth grade. The Kennedy Center conducted a nine-month-long audit, surveying 108 kindergarten through eighth grade principals, 1,553 general classroom teachers, 330 fine arts specialists and 45 community arts partners.
Those results combined with pilot programs and student profiles showed there is a need and desire for improved fine arts programs in the district, according to Brent Hasty, executive director of MINDPOP, an organization that partnered with AISD to approach the Kennedy Center last year.
“This initiative is not just a districtwide initiative, it's a citywide initiative,” he said, explaining it will pull resources from the community—not only the schools, but also the city, parents, philanthropies, local businesses, artists and musicians.
The Kennedy Center audit results support other research that shows students who participate in fine arts programs perform better academically. Students in AISD high schools who were enrolled in three or more years of fine arts classes had higher attendance rates, as well as higher scores in reading, math, science and social studies. Further, the art students also had a 98.13 percent graduation rate, 20 percent higher than the 78.11 percent graduation rate for students not taking arts courses.
AISD has piloted fine arts programs in six campuses in the McCallum High School vertical team. Attendance increased, along with academic scores and parental involvement, according to the district. Lamar Middle School, described by the district as “low-performing,” saw an improvement in test scores.
Hasty explained that improving the arts in AISD would require providing teachers with arts-based teaching strategies, such as ways to incorporate dance or music into a history lesson, for example.
Several attendees noted that with high-stakes testing and No Child Left Behind, local teachers are already under pressure. The Kennedy Center audit, however, showed 92 percent of AISD teachers expressed interest in receiving professional development in one or more art forms, but 66.2 percent said little or no professional development is available.
“We're not talking about moving all the schools to a performance arts high school school or a performing arts middle school,” Hasty explained. “There's a role for that, for those kids who want to have that preprofessional experience, or to study it deeply even if they're going to be a lawyer. But this is where all kids at a school, at every school, have access to the arts.”
Tammie Workman, principal of Highland Park Elementary School and part of the McCallum vertical team was part of the planning team that contributed to the Any Given Child AAFR.
“This initiative has not only energized me and energized my work as a campus-based leader, but it's also energized our educators, our campus, our community, our kids … and I want that for any given child in AISD,” Workman said.
Preliminary results of the Kennedy Center audit included:
- 91.3 percent of principals said the arts have a great deal of value in child development
- 71 percent of teachers said support for community arts partnerships in AISD was inadequate
- High school students taking arts courses for three or more years had a 98.13 percent graduation rate
- High school students not taking arts courses had a 78.11 percent graduation rate
- In high-poverty high schools, students in arts courses for three or more years had a 96.35 percent graduation rate
- In high-poverty high schools, students not taking arts courses had a 81.75 percent graduation rate
Another meeting to discuss the fine arts AAFR will be held Nov. 17. For more information, visit www.austinisd.org.