Half way into my son’s first year of Kindergarten, I’ve developed an interest in his arts education. As the Sentinel’s Visual and Performing Arts writer, I hold the arts to be a major part of a child’s learning process, not as a skill to make something pretty, but as an essential element in developing the creative thinking necessary for problem solving and innovation that can apply to any field. I try to support my local school by volunteering when I can and getting involved with the PTO/PTA fundraisers when they need me. Recently, I spoke in front of the SBUSD school board in an effort to promote more funding for arts programs as they are finalizing the district’s LCAP (Local Control and Accountability Plan), a plan that determines spending in public schools for the next three years.

There seems to be three factors in public school education: What type of learning parents want for their kids, what type of instruction schools can offer, and what the School District Board approves funding for. And longtime Roosevelt Elementary Principal turned VAPA (Visual and Performing Arts) Director is the woman who is bridging the gaps. With a PHD from University of Pennsylvania in Education Leadership, an MA from Drextel University and a BA from St. Joseph University, Dr. Donna Ronzone is more than qualified to lead our district’s pursuits of an enriched arts education for all our public schools. She has spend 18+ years in the classroom, and 23 years in administration, in addition to overseeing the district’s elementary music program from 2009-12. Ronzone is passionate about her work, explaining, “Personally, as a teacher and as an educational leader, the value of arts education is incalculable. Resources and their allocation, e.g. funding, time, etc. in public education are always a challenge sometimes more than others. I think there is ample evidence that the overall health of the national states’ economies plays a roe in the support available for the Arts in our nations’ public schools. During the course of my career, I have seen individual teachers, school sites, and school districts use a variety of approaches to keep the arts and arts instruction alive and vibrant in our schools. Teachers readily integrate the arts into their core subjects; dedicated arts instruction with highly qualified credentialed arts teachers is currently in place in all SBUSD schools and was always a goal in all the districts and schools in which I worked, East and West Coast! After-school opportunities in partnerships with school site PTAs and PTOs/Foundations as well as community partnerships such as iCAN and the Santa Barbara Symphony also expand the reach into the arts for our kids.”

I discovered on the Santa Barbara Unified District website a VAPA plan that focuses on enriching our public school’s arts disciplines – Instrumental Music, Vocal Music, Dance, Visual Arts, and Theatre. SBUSD took big strides to strengthen children’s art education in Santa Barbara when they folded the music program into the district budget and created the position of VAPA Director last year. Ronzone’s position may be new, but she is fast showing her experience and knowhow, navigating the numerous schools around the city from Pre-K through 12th Grade.

“My first six months on the job have been focused on where we are in light of the strategic plan and what do we need to revise and/or initiate to meet the VAPA plan’s goal. Researching what’s going on around the state and nation, academic and action research on arts instruction, and keeping up with the updates in legislation such as ESSA (the recently passed Federal legislation which replaces No Child left behind)… These tasks, too, have kept me busy along with working with our community partnerships in the arts,” says Ronzone.

As we walked the Roosevelt Elementary campus, Ronzone was greeted warmly by her former students, listening to their recent achievements and quizzing them on lesson plans she knew all too well. She paid focused attention to the children and I too felt the same attentiveness as we discussed the districts arts program. It is this type of engagement and one-on-one attention that had me and the students sharing the same feeling, that our voice is heard and what we have to say is important too. Communication is essential to building strength in our community and our education system.

If you want your voice heard, there is an opportunity for parents, educators, and community members to be a part of the decision making process of the school district’s goals, budgets, etc… Get up and speak at the upcoming SBUSD Public Forum Meetings at the District Offices February 9th and 23rd at 6:30 pm sharp (720 Santa Barbara Street)!

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