Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Martha Rodriguez-Torres, principal, P.S. 156, The Waverly School of the Arts, Brooklyn, New York

Sandra McGary-Ervin, principal, Harmony Leland Elementary School, Mableton, Georgia

Rory Pullens, assistant principal, Smith Renaissance School of the Arts, Denver, Colorado

Martha Rodriguez-Torres
Martha Rodriguez-Torres has been the principal of P.S. 156 for the past eight years. Prior to that, she was an assistant principal for five years. She also has held a variety of positions within the New York City Board of Education, including classroom teacher, staff developer, and early childhood coordinator.

Q. What kind of staff development do you use to help classroom teachers use the arts?

A. Most of the staff development for teachers takes place via the arts planning teams [made up of staff, professional artists, and parents], workshops, and staff meetings. Our staff also attends citywide conferences around the arts.

Q. What training is provided to teachers, arts specialists, and visiting artists to help them learn to collaborate more effectively?

A. To help the team collaborate we have had retreats as well as in-house workshops on how to plan.

Q. What are some of the key management issues (e.g., facilities, time management, intrastaff communications, etc.) particular to running an arts-based school?

A. The key management issue has been scheduling time for teams to meet. Another issue has been the space available for performances, since we did not have an auditorium. When we moved into our new building in September 2002, that was no longer an issue.

Q. In what ways do the arts help extend or support a multicultural curriculum?

A. The arts help to support our multicultural curriculum in that we teach arts education using a multicultural approach. This means that we study a particular culture for eight weeks at a time and integrate that in all curriculum areas. We study not only the art forms of that culture, but also its artists, literature, history, science, and social studies.

Q. How are arts programs at P.S. 156 funded?

A. Our programs are funded by the board of education under Project Arts as well as through private funding sources such as a grant from the Center for Arts Education through the Annenberg Challenge for Arts Education.

Q. As a principal, how involved do you get in obtaining funds for your arts programs?

A. My involvement with funding is critical, because I have to take funds from all of our monies to support the arts. That entails believing that literacy is not limited to being gained from textbooks. Thus, library funds are used to purchase books that support our program, and software monies are used to buy arts-related software.

Q. Who makes sure that the national and state standards mesh with your school’s arts-based curriculum?

A. National and state standards are adhered to and monitored by the school administration. Additionally, teachers are aware of the standards and must post them on all work displayed by students.

Q. How did P.S. 156 become an arts-based school?

A. I do not have an arts background, but I do have a love for the arts and have always felt that all children regardless of their economic conditions have a right to arts education. P.S. 156 was not an arts-based school when I got here. In fact, it was the worst school in the district. I felt that, due to the low self-esteem of the students, I needed to bring something special that would allow the students to begin to experience success and that that success would then translate into the classroom. We have done that, and now we are a school that others come to in order to learn. The achievement levels of our students have grown and continue to do so.

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Sandra McGary-Ervin
Sandra McGary-Ervin came to Cobb County, Georgia, in 1985 to teach special education at North Cobb High School. Later, she was a learner support strategist (curriculum specialist) at that same school. She later served as assistant principal at Griffin Middle School, then as supervisor of the cultural diversity department for the school district. At the time this program was videotaped, she was in her fourth year as principal of Harmony Leland Elementary School.

Q. Why was the decision made to have an elementary school of the arts in this community?

A. Because the area high school is Cobb County’s magnet school for performing arts, it was important for the community to have an elementary school with a similar desire for the arts to be formulated for students. Harmony Leland Elementary School was chosen for this purpose.

Q. What were the biggest challenges in leading Harmony Leland through the transition to an arts-based school?

A. Some of the challenges we faced included the following:

  • Training had to be given to teachers in a school that typically has frequent teacher turnover.
  • There were various staff development needs (e.g., reading, writing, math, and art).
  • There was enormous difficulty balancing regular staff development activity with the needed staff development in arts-based instruction.
  • Of great importance was the need to reassure teachers they could experience success with this model.
  • It is necessary to make sure the teaching staff knows that this is not just one more thing that they have to do. It is important to take the existing curriculum and integrate the arts component into the standards that teachers are responsible for teaching. It is not something new to add on their plate.

Q. How do you communicate your vision for an arts-based school to parents?

A. The following are methods we used to communicate the school’s vision for an arts-based school:

  • Parent-Teacher Association meeting
  • Newsletter
  • Town hall meeting
  • Parents’ active roles in arts-based activities
  • Parent classes

Research data regarding arts-based instruction was presented to parents, and evidence of students’ success was explained.

Q. What is the DEAR program? How did you learn about it? How was it implemented? Why do you use it?

A. DEAR is Drop Everything and Read. This is silent, sustained reading where the student is able to self-select his or her reading text. Self-selection of the text is so important; it motivates kids to read. It is the responsibility of the teacher to make sure there are plenty of texts appropriate for the reading level of the students in the classroom. We do an hour of DEAR time every day. We do it schoolwide each day at 1:45 p.m. for 30 minutes. And each teacher has another 30-minute block of DEAR time in her or his literacy group [reading class]. DEAR is a “best practice” that we have used for many years. Research tells us that the more a child reads, the better reader he or she becomes.

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Rory Pullens
Rory Pullens was a film/media and journalism major in college and worked as a scriptwriter in Hollywood for seven years. He taught high school theatre, speech, and journalism classes in Los Angeles for nine years and ran his own community-based theatrical company. He was at Smith Renaissance School of the Arts for five years, serving initially as a fifth-grade teacher, then as arts coordinator and drama teacher, and then as assistant principal. In 2001, he became principal of Force Elementary School, where visual art and band were added to the existing vocal music class.

Q. What does it mean to be a “school of choice”? How are students selected?

A. “School of choice” simply means that any child who lives anywhere in Denver can apply to attend your school. If there is space and that child qualifies, he or she can attend.

Students usually are selected in order of application. Equal preference is given to any student outside of the school’s normal boundaries.

Q. When and why did Smith Renaissance become a school of the arts?

A. After court-ordered busing ended in 1995, schools were encouraged to come up with different focuses to encourage parental choice. Smith chose the arts because:

  • many staff members had background in the arts;
  • parents selected it as one of their top two choices in a parental survey; and
  • it was a focus that would allow the school to promote positive public relations [which was important since test scores were low].

So, Smith became a school of the arts in 1996.

Q. What were the main challenges of converting to a school of the arts?

A. [There were three main challenges:]

  • Redesigning the physical plant. Space had to be converted for dance, instrumental music, drama, vocal music, and visual arts.
  • Training the staff to understand what being a school of the arts meant. It took a few years to get the right staff members in place who had background and interest in an arts program.
  • Reeducating parents on the differences in an arts program vs. a traditional one. There were many staff development opportunities, parent meetings, and assemblies with students.

Q. How did you choose replacements for the staff who left because of the conversion to a school of the arts?

A. Overall, the staff was excited about becoming a school of the arts. Those who were not [excited] left during that first year. Personnel committees and administration looked for teachers who were willing to participate and promote the arts program. Of course, those teaching the specific arts classes had to have not only the arts experience and training, but the education experience [for elementary kids] as well. Finding such people was no easy task.

Q. Please describe the peer mentoring program at Smith Renaissance.

A. As far as the arts are concerned, each arts teacher interacts with specific grade-level teachers during planning periods and for staff development times to discuss the direction of arts instruction. The arts staff also regularly conducts in-service sessions for the entire staff to promote integration of the arts in the classroom.

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