• District launches master plan for arts education

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    Stella Feuerborn

    Stella Feuerborn works on a computer in the Madison High School classroom of teacher Randy Maves.

    Madison High School senior Stella Feuerborn has learned a lot in two years in a photography class. An image Stella created was chosen as one of the student pieces displayed at the recent HeART of Portland, Portland Public Schools’ annual showcase at the Portland Art Museum.

    A high academic achiever, Stella was able to grasp the concepts of photography and graphic design quickly. But her teacher, Randy Maves, can’t help but wonder what would have happened if Stella had come to his class with the basics already in her toolkit. Or if there are other students who don’t take art in high school because they never learned the basics in an earlier grade.

    “If she had been doing that as a fifth-grader, she would have come to me, and what more could she have done?” Maves said. “How much better, how much stronger would her aesthetic voice have been?”

    PPS has launched a major academic initiative, called the Master Arts Education Plan (MAEP) that will give students that opportunity. Thanks to the Portland Art Tax, PPS students in elementary grades – kindergarten through fifth grade – are taking arts classes from highly-trained teachers. The new arts master plan seeks to have students take that early arts education and continue to grow as artists through middle and high school.

    Kristen Brayson and Carolyn Drake of the district’s new Visual and Performing Arts program, or VAPA, presented the comprehensive plan to the Board of Education at its April 16 meeting. The plan ties into the Visioning campaign being undertaken this school year by the district under Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero.

    “I consider access to rich and robust arts offerings in public schools to be part of an essential, whole education,” Guerrero said.

    The Portland Arts Tax was implemented by a ballot measure in 2012. PPS is required to use money from the tax to pay certified visual and performing arts teachers for students in kindergarten to fifth grade. Revenue from the tax allowed PPS to go from the equivalent of 15 full-time arts teachers for K-5 students to 63 who serve 21,738 students across all elementary schools.

    “Having stable funding for arts education, K-5, is a huge gift to our students, thanks to Portland taxpayers,” Drake said.

    The master plan lays the groundwork for an early arts education that include fully-formed pathways through which students can continue to receive a coherent, thoughtfully-planned and equitable arts education through grades 6 to 12.

    As part of Phase I of the arts master plan, Brayson and Drake gathered data from Maves and other arts teachers around the district. They found that 78 percent of the district’s students are being served through classroom instruction with an arts specialist. The other 22 percent, which includes the areas that feed into Madison, will be targeted for attention in creating more consistent arts pathways.

    Maves, a veteran teacher who taught more traditional art disciplines such as drawing, painting and sculpture before adding technology-based art such as digital media and graphics, said he has seen the value of a continuous arts education in students who had previously attended arts magnet schools or received private instruction. By the time he got them, they had mastered basics and also had overcome what Maves calls the “risky” aspect of art that requires the artist to put work out for others to see.

    “Those kids are a huge step above,” he said. “They are more confident, they have more direction, that risk aversion is gone for good.”

    Even in the short time Stella – whose school life is stuffed with AP classes and sports – has pursued photography and graphic design, she has grown to appreciate the value of arts in her curriculum. Much of her work has been based in technology, which has applications to many other academic areas, and it also develops other aspects of her as a person.

    “I just started to get into it and find out that it was a way I could express myself that wasn’t with words, and that was really valuable to me because it was something that I’d never been able to do before,” she said.

    The master plan is currently in Phase I, with Phase II set to launch in 2019-20, and Phase III the following school year. Brayson and Drake said the starting-point goal is for each cluster to offer full pathways in at least two of four disciplines of the arts – dance, music, theatre and visual. They also hope to eventually add literary arts to the mix. Guerrero wants PPS to aim high.

    “I would like us to be a little more utopian,” he said. “I think two is an ambitious next goal, but I would like to see complete pathways in all the disciplines. Let’s get there.”

    Read the full arts presentation to the Board

    Watch the arts presentation to the Board