Take 5 with Cassandra Town

Did you know that it takes only 7 or 8 personal connections to catch a legislator’s attention? Our individual efforts have a collective impact! Making your voice heard counts and here’s an example of a time when this really worked.

Two years ago, just as the reporting on the arts assessments (CBPAs) became mandatory, a bill was introduced in the state legislature to suspend the district “implementation verification.” If passed, it would have likely put an end to the assessments themselves, removing the reporting requirement that had been hard won in 2004. In an effort to remove the CBPA suspension from the bill, a coalition of arts education supporters rallied to voice their resistance through calls, emails and letters to the bill’s sponsors.

ArtsEd Washington member Cassandra Town was one of those who stepped forward to write a letter in opposition to the legislation. Because of her and other arts education supporters’ collective efforts, the suspension of the arts assessments was dropped from the bill. In addition to saving the arts reporting requirements, our efforts also saved the assessments in health and fitness, as well as social studies.

We asked Cassandra to talk about why she got involved:

1. What inspires your passion around arts education?

I believe people need more art and creativity in their everyday lives. Today, more than ever before, kids are receiving less instruction in the arts. Our public education system is failing to provide the education they deserve – one that includes the arts. I’d like to help change that, not just for today for my kids, but for the future of all children. I cannot imagine a world without art and creativity.

2. Had you ever participated in advocacy efforts prior to this experience?

I had never before written to a legislator; so of course I was nervous. Once I was finished, and my letter sent, it felt amazing! It was one of those ‘ah-ha’ moments in life and I felt like I accomplished something really important.

3. How did the efforts of ArtsEd Washington catalyze you to take action?

ArtsEd Washington makes it simple to get involved and stay involved. Not only is their website full of resources and information, but their “action alert” email communications are clear, concise, and walk you through the process of how to take action. The bulleted information in these “action alerts” makes it easy for the lay-person to compose a letter in their own words, based on their own experiences, and using statistical data from a trusted source.

4. What were your lessons learned from this experience?

I learned many things from this experience; some of the most important are:

  • Legislators are just people. They are not mind readers. They can’t represent our needs if they don’t know about them. You have to speak up and tell them.
  • Because I had such a positive experience, I want to learn more about advocacy and what I can do to help advance arts education in our schools.
  • ArtsEd Washington is a true partner in arts education advocacy. Before I heard of ArtsEd Washington, I used to spend hours scouring the internet for relevant arts education facts and information for Washington State. I no longer have to do that. Now, I simply visit ArtsEd Washington’s website. Like the “action alert” emails, the tools and information on their website user friendly, clear, and concise.

5. What tips can you share with arts education supporters that could help them in their own advocacy efforts?

Don’t wait. Get started today. Do one small thing every day. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and speak out for what you are most passionate about – YOU can make a difference.

Cassandra Town is the president of The Robert B. McMillen Foundation, mom to three school-aged children, and lives in Cle Elum, WA.

Share your inspirational arts education or arts advocacy story with us! Where have you seen the arts change outcomes for a student? How has your personal engagement made a difference in a policy or budget issue? What arts teacher changed your life?  Let us know. Your submission may be selected for a future Take 5 member profile!

This was posted in the category Members Making an Impact. and tagged , ,
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      Three principals shared their experiences working with the PAL program in Title I schools including Tracye Ferguson (formerly of Franklin Elementary and now Director of Title I/Early Learning for Tacoma Public Schools), Alan Matsumoto (Garfield Elementary in Yakima), and Farah Thaxton (formerly of Madrona K-8 in Seattle). ArtsEd Washington Executive Director Una McAlinden moderated the panel as they offered their leadership perspective and insights on how arts learning and specifically the PAL program has helped them improve their schools and can impact students and schools statewide. The session was introduced with pride by Gayle Pauley, Title I Director of Washington’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

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      Like many other schools across Washington State, Garfield, Madrona, and Franklin have used the PAL program to grow their arts capacities, impacting overall academic success, school culture, and student/family engagement. The panel shared their experiences in building effective arts plans, visions, and real world tactics to turn their schools into vibrant, successful places for their students to engage and learn. The session also covered tangible strategies to advance this instructional change and demonstrated a simple infrastructure for team-building, vision development, and planning for student success.

      “Including the arts in the school day improves student engagement, academic achievement, attendance, graduation rates, and overall success,” commented McAlinden. “The fact that our session was chosen for this national conference demonstrates the growing understanding among education leaders that the arts are a path to both student and school success.”

      The goal of the PAL program is to empower schools to create the fundamental systemic change that will ensure that the arts play a vital role in a complete education for all students, now and for years to come. PAL trains principals, as instructional leaders in all areas of curriculum, to expand their own capacities in arts leadership, to develop arts teams, visions, and plans, and to implement concrete strategies to integrate and sustain arts instruction for every student in every school.

      Thaxton’s experience at Madrona K-8, where more than three quarters of the students fall below the poverty line, demonstrated the remarkable impact of arts learning.  Citing more confident, engaged, and perseverant students at Madrona (which had limited arts offerings before she began work with the PAL program), Thaxton observes that the climate and culture of the school were transformed by the arts. She also sings the praises of the professional development she received through the program.

      Notes Thaxton, “It was one of the most focused professional development experiences I’ve had as a principal. PAL brought everybody’s voice together and was a key strategy in our success.”

      ArtsEd Washington is currently in the process of revamping the PAL program to be implemented at a district-wide level instead of the slower school-by-school approach. As part of the Creative Advantage, Seattle Public Schools has just begun implementation of PAL in its Central Pathway and will continue rollout to the whole district over the next few years.

      For more information, call 206-441-4501 or email office@artsedwashington.org