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Voices: Integrating the arts in DPS

Jason Callegari, A+ Denver’s policy director, argues for a renewed focus on arts education and outlines a task force created by the advocacy group to bolster the arts in Denver schools. 

A+ Denver recently created a task force to discuss the current state of arts integration both geographically and across the K-12 spectrum in Denver Public Schools.

Arts-related jobs are the fifth largest sector of employment in Denver alone and there are numerous studies, books and anecdotes from CEOs and leaders noting the need for right-brained, creative and innovative thinkers in our workforce right now.  We also know that Colorado struggles to overcome the “Colorado paradox” and continues to import human capital.

At some point, we won’t be able to rely upon our mountains to lure talent to Colorado and we need to improve our education to better engage and prepare students.

I was encouraged during my attendance of recent community meetings studying a DPS tax increase that these issues were discussed and that both the committee studying the increase and DPS are committed to more and high quality arts education in the district.  While the school board has not decided whether to ask voters for a tax increase, there is a substantial amount of money for the arts included in the tax increase proposal and that vote will be occurring soon.

At the same time that I was attending some of these meetings, A+ Denver undertook an arts-focused data gathering effort, mostly qualitative, through interviews and surveys of district schools.  What we ended up with are a draft report and some hypotheses that we have taken to our task force.  The Quality Arts Task Force includes Bill Kohut, principal of the Denver School of the Arts; Think 360 Arts Managing Director Jane Hansberry; former Lt. Governor Barbara O’Brien; George Sparks, CEO of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science; and others.

A+ Denver hypotheses on the arts in DPS

  1. Funding for arts programs has been cut as budgets have been constrained. If more funding were available, schools would offer more programming.
  2. There is a supply-and-demand issue for art opportunities (we aren’t meeting the demand for art education).
  3. There is an opportunity gap and kids don’t have the equal access they need to enter the arts pipeline – see composition of DSA.
  4. There are good programs in the district, but much of their success is tied to individual relationships and not institutional relationships.
  5. Lack of pipeline – we don’t necessarily have methods or resources to move kids as they change schools and go on to higher grade levels. Those interested in a musical instrument in elementary school may not have any programs or options available to them in a nearby middle or high school.
  6. There are great opportunities for resource pooling and collaboration but there isn’t a cooperative framework or organization leading the charge – this should be an organization outside of DPS.

A+ Denver recognizes that we are not the experts on arts education and have convened this Quality Arts Task Force to provide feedback on these hypotheses and to suggest solutions, new partnerships and innovations as we move forward to continue to improve education in Denver.  It is with this recognition that we ask for other hypotheses that can serve to guide our discussion.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.