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State Schools Superintendent Champions Arts Education

The state's top education official gave his support to the idea of doing a better job of weaving music, painting, drama and other arts into public school instruction.

Arts education matters to Tom Torlakson, the state's Superintendent of Public Instruction.

When he ran for office two years ago he promised voters he would commit to reviving arts education in the schools. He has attempted to keep that promise by offering support for CREATE CA and the group's efforts to craft “A Blueprint for Creative Schools.”

He was in town Saturday to give closing remarks at at the Coronado School for the Arts. Coronado was chosen because of success local schools have had with .

Torlakson challenged the task force to help him “reverse the trend [in defunding the arts] and “create a renaissance in education.”

The forum drew 200 educators and arts advocates from across California, as well as representatives from possible corporate supporters, including Sony Pictures Entertainment, Target and Boeing. 

All were there “to engage in open conversation,” said Craig Watson, the executive director of the California Arts Council.

In individual breakout sessions, attendees developed the broad outlines of what will become guidelines for bringing the arts back into the state's classrooms. They discussed policy and politics, curriculum and assessment, equity and access, teacher and school development, and perhaps most importantly, funding. 

Common themes and ideas developed at the conference included developing a consistent message, creating a vocabulary that resonates with different audiences – teachers, students, businessmen, seniors – and learning from corporate partners. 

Task force members will use the ideas to fashion the blueprint Torlakson is seeking, a document that will eventually be used to draft legislation.

“This is a very unique process,” Torlakson said in an interview with Patch before his talk. “I can’t think of any other examples (of similar endeavors).”

Indeed “no state agency has ever attempted anything like this on this scale,” said Malissa Feruzzi-Shriver, chair of the arts council, and according to Torlakson, the driving force behind the effort. 

For his part, Torlakson said he has devoted a good deal of his office’s resources to the project, including assigning one of his top lieutenants, Craig Cheslog, to the task force. 

While he couldn’t quantify how much of his budget is devoted to bringing creativity back to the classroom, he did allow that it was a high priority. 

“The state lost $22 billion in arts funding that had to be shifted to the more pressing needs of keeping teachers in the classroom for the core curriculum,” the state superintendent said.

He is not promising a bigger budget, but instead is relying on the energy and ingenuity of the Create CA. Task Force to find better ways to utilize the funding that is in place. 

“We have 10,000 [public] schools in California ... They all need a life rich in the arts, to build big dreams of success, no matter what zip code they live in,” Torlakson said.

He challenged the task force to help him to “reverse the trend [in defunding the arts] and “create a renaissance in education.”

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