When Ann Tomlins first entered Central High School, on Tulsa's northwest side, she met an art teacher who kept a coffee cup on her desk. In the cup were a few pencils and broken crayons, and the teacher told Tomlins, "These are my supplies."
That was eight years ago, right after Tomlins had been hired by then-Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent David Sawyer to program and market visual arts in all of TPS's 80-plus schools.
Since that time, Central has been transformed into a magnet school specializing in fine arts, the district has added two staff to Tomlins' department, and the self-dubbed "Annie Art Seed" has created a fine arts task force charged with the duty of ensuring all schools receive equitable arts education.
"We had some tumultuous years and a stream of superintendents that came through," Tomlins said.
With plans for the Oklahoma School for the Visual and Performing Arts underway, a look at the current schools' fine art education seems needed.
Paige Godfrey, music curriculum specialist for the district's fine arts department, was hired two years after Tomlins, and Brian Arneecher, visual arts curriculum specialist, was hired two years ago, relieving Tomlins of her visual arts coordinating duties and leaving her to manage and implement fine arts education in all of the schools.
In the past eight years, Tomlins and Godfrey have filled every music instructor vacancy in the district, so that all TPS schools have at least one music educator.
"When I first came on, and this was eight years ago, only a third of our schools had art teachers," Tomlins said. "Probably two thirds had music teachers."
All but eight of them out of the 80-plus schools now have visual arts educators, and Tomlins has made it one of her primary goals to get instructors -- either through paid TPS staff, volunteer community members or grant-funded integration programs -- into those eight schools.
Other goals include increasing the funding available to fine arts teachers by creating an endowment and changing the structure of the district to allow each school to be funded equally and not based on population.
TPS schools are funded currently through site-based management, Godfrey explained. Schools receive funding based on the number of pupils enrolled. From the funding they get, the schools' principals determine a budget based on what they feel are the schools greatest needs.
Although some schools receive additional Title I funding, that money must be spent on math and reading programs, not fine arts.
A lot of the money that could be spent on fine arts curricula got diverted when President George Bush's "No Child Left Behind" law went into effect, requiring schools to spend money on programs and agendas meant to raise students' standardized test scores.
"It's just, sometimes it's a matter of priority and where they want or need the money to go," Godfrey said. "Our push is that programming is not -- or should not be -- based on school populations. Regardless of your population, every school should have art and music opportunities."
And although, as fine arts administrators, Tomlins, Godfrey and Arneecher have made positive changes to arts education in the district, changing the funding structure is one they can't make.
"The school board has to make that kind of a change," Tomlins said. "We think it's going to happen. We have several school board members who have come to our fine arts advisory board, and we've got a lot of very, very strong community support. So we really think it will eventually happen."
Mixing the Paint
Tomlins organized the Fine Arts Advisory Board this year to determine the district's needs and enlist community support.
Tomlins and Ken Busby, director of the Arts and Humanities Council of Tulsa, used The Kennedy Center's "Audit for Community Arts" as a foundation, surveyed 100 community members to ascertain their opinions regarding the district's performance and needs pertaining to the arts.
"It surprised us what we found," Tomlins said. "Not that there's negative, it's just the major answer was 'I don't know.'
"To us, that was like, OK, people don't know what our challenges are, what we're doing wrong," she said. "They also don't know the really cool things we're doing. They just don't know. So we needed to start communicating, reaching our public."
Tomlins, after navigating TPS bureaucracy, launched a Facebook page for the advisory board, and in fewer than four weeks had 122 members.
"And the funny thing is, a lot of them are retired, but a lot of them are kids," Tomlins said. "We're reaching people that normally we wouldn't have reached -- teenagers who don't go with their folks anymore to places and older people who don't have school-aged children anymore."
Through the task force, Tomlins hopes to enlist community aid and encouragement in accomplishing her goals for the district. In addition, she wants to raise awareness about the progress that is being made.
"We had our first meeting, and Dr. (Keith) Ballard (TPS superintendent) came out and said he would fight for the arts, and he will do what he can in any way, shape or form, and he just launched it," Tomlins said. "And to have that support at the top is something we hadn't had ever since I've been up here.
"We're trying as best we can to get the word out that we are here, we are fighting and we're doing whatever we can to bring arts to kids," Tomlins said.
When asked about the importance of an education in the arts, versus one in core subjects like math, science and reading, Tomlins is quick to respond.
"Isn't America known for its innovators?" she said. "Isn't that what's made us such a strong country? If you look at kids filling out the bubble sheets, are they getting challenged as far as their innovation, their problem solving, their creative thinking?
"We are a country of creative thinkers and problem solvers, and I'm sorry, by memorizing your math ? which is all well and good; I think it's important to have memorized math tables ? on the other hand, let's apply those and use some imagination. I think it's very important to balance (the two)," Tomlins said.
Godfrey said, "And the research shows us -- and I've never heard anyone refute it -- that an arts education will increase your test scores across the board."
Tomlins points to evidence presented by students at Tulsa's A+ schools, which has arts education funded through the state.
"We know those A+ schools, not one of them has failed to meet AYP, which is Adequate Yearly Progress, and they're all 1,000 points above every other school in the state," Tomlins said.
A+ is one of the integration programs offered to schools without arts teachers. It's a research-based program with the ultimate goal of nurturing students' creativity. In A+ schools, the arts are valued as essential to learning, included in lesson planning and taught and practiced on a daily basis, often integrated into other subjects.
Experiential learning is grounded in art-based instruction and is acknowledged as a creative process. There are 60 A+ schools statewide and six in Tulsa: Chouteau Elementary, Eugene Fields Elementary, Grimes Elementary, Grissom Elementary, Mark Twain Elementary and Owen Elementary.
Project CREATES is another integration program, sponsored by the privately funded Barthelmes Foundation of Tulsa, which aims to transform traditional teaching through "arts-infused" curriculum. Since 2001, Project CREATES, an acronym for "connecting community resources encouraging all teachers to educate with spirit," has been providing arts and music education in public schools where there previously was none.
Project CREATES schools are Addams Elementary, Mitchell Elementary, Remington Elementary, Robertson Elementary, Clinton Middle School and Owen Elementary.
And, the Arts and Humanities Council of Tulsa, through its Harwelden Institute, provides arts education to students at 21 area elementary schools and one middle school.
Harwelden Institute's goal is to integrate the arts in mainstream learning and ensure they remain a priority in education.
Additionally, 26 schools receive funding through VH1's "Save the Music" program, four are recipients of Tulsa Symphony Orchestra's "Opus 2009" strings program, two are recipients of TSO's "Ambassador" program, two are recipients of TSO's "Master Music Teacher" program 12 receive education from Tulsa Signature Symphony's strings program, two partner with Barthelmes Foundation's strings program and four host AHCT's after-school arts program.
Molding the Artists
Last year, Central High School became Central High School Fine and Performing Arts Magnet, offering 32 fine arts courses, including advanced placement and pre-AP studio art classes and 12 additional pre-AP and AP core curriculum courses, as well as integrating arts education into various other core subjects.
The school hosts artists-in-residence who work with the students and teachers on various projects and encourages students to participate in arts and music competition regionally, statewide and nationally.
The program is new, though, and still working out some kinks.
"It's a big ship, and there are students at the school who were there before they were deemed a magnet school, and then you have the new ones who've transferred in or come from the middle schools," Godfrey said. "So you kind of have two kinds of kids there. But I think they've had great leadership with Suzette Huggins before and now Oliver Wallace, who's the new principal.
"I have participation like never before from the choir, the band, the jazz band," she said.
"As far as being at the level of Jenks or Union or other people who have had programs going on for decades, they're still new," Godfrey said. "And they're still building and growing and recruiting."
Both Godfrey and Tomlins repeatedly emphasized creating opportunities for students, and both said they're seeing students take advantage of opportunities that have been made available to them.
"I feel like now, more than ever, the kids are being given opportunities and they're being a more visible presence in the community than ever before," Godfrey said.
"Recently, there was a competition, and Booker T., East Central and Central entered, and one of the winners was a Central student," Tomlins said. "So we're starting to see that, and the kids see it, and I think that's going to be important."
"In the past, it (winning contests) wasn't something, I think, they felt was possible," Godfrey said. "And now they feel like they can, and they do."
Tomlins and Godfrey said participation in arts programs, competitions and contests is at an all-time high. In years past, TPS didn't make much of a showing at band and orchestra competitions, they said. Having such poor representation by the state's second-largest school district was disappointing. But, as opportunities for competition have increased and students and teachers have felt encouraged and supported by the administration, participation has increased.
"Now with the support we've gotten, the momentum we've gotten, we're seeing a lot of opportunity, a lot more presence from our students out there," Godfrey said. "And I think that's a direct result of what they've given us the freedom to do in our department."
"It's like one thing George Kravis said to me after we doubled our enrollment in the Kravis Arts Camp last summer, he said, 'Man, we did something good here,'" Tomlins said. "And I said, 'Yes, we did. We did something good.'"
Godfrey said students recognize and understand when their programs are supported and valued by adults, and when they are, participation is most likely to increase.
"When they know their choir is valued and the band is valued for something beyond marching, then it shows and they want to be proud of their improvements. Kids are taking more pride in their programs because they know they're being supported."
Godfrey said before she took on the role of music curriculum coordinator the district didn't hold auditions for honor events. Now, there is an honors choir, and honors band, an honors jazz band and an honors orchestra, and turnout for the auditions far exceeds any student participation they experienced in the past.
The department recently organized a district-wide art show, held at the Fulton Teaching and Learning Academy, where Tomlins, Godfrey and Arneecher office, and almost 100 percent of the district's 80-plus schools participated, Tomlins said.
"More than 1,200 people come to the reception," she said. "Do you know how many that is? That's a lot more than go to a basketball game.
"It's one of those things where, when people see something effective and something positive, more and more people join on," she said.
But, the administrators know their work is far from finished.
Works in Arts
Another primary goal for the Fine Arts Advisory Board, in addition to changing the district's funding structure, is to create an endowment that would sustainably fund arts education.
"We're trying to establish an endowment, so that we can pay stipends for teachers to stay late for an event or to travel for training or to take kids to competition," Tomlins said. "We don't have that money because a lot of that money has dried up and gone into No Child Left Behind and testing. We need to find a way to sustain outside the school days events, whether its teacher training or student bussing."
Godfrey said the district has had success in passing school bonds that pay for equipment and instruments, but that money won't pay for art supplies or consumables.
"So it's sort of this steady cycle of grant writing and beating the bushes for those kinds of things," she said. "Sometimes something as small as a few hundred dollars for a bus or for art supplies, paints and glazes, can be the demise of a program or an event."
"We need to institutionalize our funding to where it's not hit-or-miss, here today gone tomorrow," Tomlins said.
The district's annual budget allots $246,000 for arts funding -- $18,000 for clay, $80,000 for instrument repair, $78,000 for music accompanists, $21,700 for the Artists in the Schools program, $44,000 for the Harwelden Institute program, $3,300 for the Arts After School program and $1,000 for the Speech Arts Festival. Those funds are divided between all the schools in the district.
In addition, TPS received $305,000 from a 1999 school bond to pay for instruments, $2 million from a 2001 school bond and $1.5 million from a 2005 school bond to pay for equipment and building additions. That's a total of $3,805,000 since 1999, 3.6 percent of the total bonds approved. And none of that goes to art supplies or teachers' salaries.
While the district also receives significant funds from charitable donors, it's not enough to sustain fine arts in all of the schools over the long haul, Tomlins said.
"We have, let's say, 90 schools, and in each school you have an art and a music teacher, and in high school you have more than two because you have maybe four or five art teachers and two or three music," Tomlins explained. "Each teacher would need funding. We have about 300 teachers. I multiplied that by $1,000, and that's $300,000 per year.
"That's just giving them a minor -- I mean, $1,000 for visual arts at the high school... So $300,000, and they're getting right now nothing. Whatever bones the principal can toss or whatever grants they've written."
"Our music teachers have the benefit of the fundraising, but it's hard to sell cookie dough to people in the neighborhood who can't afford cookie dough," Godfrey said.
"I've always been very vocal that I don't think we should sell cookie dough for basic classroom needs. Cookie dough is for the trip. Cookie dough is for the extra-tall plumes. But that's where we are for funding," she said.
Tomlins and Godfrey are optimistic that they'll accomplish the goals they've set for themselves and for the Fine Arts Advisory Board, and they laud Superintendent Ballard, members of the school board and other administrators for making arts education a priority.
"I really believe that the people we have now in place aren't putting up road blocks anymore," Tomlins said. "They are actually working with us to find solutions."
"It's like you work really hard to catch the wave, and you're paddling and you're paddling and you're paddling," she said. "And finally the wave takes over, and you just ride it to the shore. And that's where we are.
"We've been paddling for a long time, and now we're starting to see the momentum of the wave carrying us."
By the Numbers
Schools Without Art Teachers
Academy Central Elementary, 1789 W. Seminole St.
Barnard Elementary, 2324 E. 17th St.
Burroughs Elementary, 1924 N. Cincinnati Ave.
Choteau Elementary, 75 N. 39th West Ave.
Columbus Elementary, 10620 E. 27th St.
Newcomer Elementary, 10908 E. 5th St.
Whitman Elementary, 3924 N. Lansing Ave.
Franklin Youth Academy, 1136 S. Allegheny Ave.
Significant Endowments and Annual Grants
Kravis Foundation: $50,000 annually for summer arts camps
Assistance League of Tulsa: $15,000 annually for music library, teacher grants and teacher recognition
Kennedy Center for the Fine and Performing Arts: $15,000 annually for fine arts teacher professional development
Levit Family Foundation: $6,000 annually for student awards and recognition/scholarship
Oklahoma State Department of Education: $5,000 annually for fine arts assessment
Kaiser Foundation: $5,000 annually for teacher grants
Rosalind Cook Award: $1,500 annually for art teacher grants
Hyechka Foundation Award: $1,500 annually for music teacher grants
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