Principals Want More Arts in Their Schools

“I’ve always wanted to play the violin, but my family was so poor I wasn’t able to. I asked our violin teacher, and she said to the class, ‘Boys and girls, Mrs. Earl is going to join us for violin lessons every week.’ I realized I am an artist, but I never really allowed myself to develop those skills.”


Leita Earl, principal
Rocky Ridge Elementary School, Graham WA
on taking part in the arts programs at her school

Research from the Washington State Arts Commission indicates that 63% of Washington principals are dissatisfied with the quantity of arts education in their schools. Correlating with this fact is the frequent comment from enrolling PAL principals about how the arts played a key role in helping them complete their own education, providing the spark of excitement and engagement in learning that many elementary school students seek today.

As principals and teachers draw on their own learning experiences, they continue to express a desire to have educational opportunities that all their students can participate in – regardless of capacity or ability.

To fulfill that need, many principals are looking at arts programs as critical components in their students’ educational curriculum. Through the arts, students are afforded the opportunity to join in with other students as equals or, perhaps for the first time, to excel at something.

However, despite best efforts and an overwhelming interest by principals to integrate the arts at their schools, they often struggle to know where to start.

That’s why we felt it was important to work with principals in our state to propel them in a leadership role by providing a sound structure and a full set of tools to help them increase their capacity for bringing the arts to every student.


Principals Are Effective Arts Leaders


“PAL helps the principal build a school culture where creativity and imagination are valued. It gives the principal an opportunity to build leadership capacity within the school. Most importantly, it supports the principal’s work to strengthen student achievement.”


Gary Kipp, Executive Director
Association of Washington School Principals

We have developed and piloted our PAL concept with the goal of catalyzing a more systemic approach to arts teaching and learning. Throughout the evolution of the program, we have utilized feedback from our early adopters and studied best practices from our sister organization in California to create a customized set of arts leadership and planning tools, designed specifically for ArtsEd Washington by Dr. Liz Lindsley, EdD, Certified Facilitator and Mentor Trainer with the Institute of Cultural Affairs, USA, and author of The Insider’s Guide to Arts Education Planning.

It is through these tools that our PAL program brings needed support, guidance, and tools to elementary school teams, helping them develop an effective ongoing annual plan that will build and sustain powerful arts programming. Most importantly, the program positions the principals as the instruction leaders in the arts, empowering them in a role to effectively guide the expectations for teachers. Since each plan is crafted by the School Arts Team, it reflects the individual school’s characteristics and community, identifying opportunities for growth and pathways for the school to offer high quality instruction to their students in the arts using existing and new resources. Key stages of the program implementation are specifically designed to ensure a successful impact to students and the community.

PAL’s Guiding Principles Impact Change

“Having found my leadership voice and passion for the arts, developing a comprehensive arts plan with the support of a program like PAL in my school has allowed me to reignite that passion for the arts, and share that passion which kept me in school and motivated me to love learning, with my staff and students.”


Doug Poage, Principal
Carnation Elementary School, Carnation WA

While initially PAL was intended to be a one-year program that would provide planning support for an elementary school principal, the overwhelming success in schools and the program’s resonance with principals quickly morphed PAL into its now current 3-year cycle that includes two years of supported plan implementation.

What’s really exciting to us is that a large majority of schools continue to maintain a strong relationship with the program – and with ArtsEd Washington – long after their 3-year program cycle has ended.

This success can largely be attributed to a set of firm guiding principles that starts with a catalytic spark and strong belief in the value of arts education, expanding into the concepts of dynamic shared leadership, and creation of systemic change through effective systems and tools, all leading to sustainable growth.

And in 2009, an independent study confirmed that these principles were serving as the keys to success for participating schools. Researchers identified that:

  • the catalytic spark was coming from the principal;
  • School Arts Team had strong structures; and
  • schools were developing or adopting strategies that increased their arts capacity and engaged the community.

And when PAL effectively changes the schools’ culture, allowing the work to take on a life of its own, the ultimate goal of having a self-sustaining program is achieved.

The success and growth of PAL is astounding. It has sparked interest nationally and been so well received by participating schools that 4Culture presented a feature presentation on our program. Originally broadcast on King County TV, the show highlights ArtsEd Washington and Carnation Elementary School, and takes an in-depth look at how the arts are positively impacting schools in Washington state.

Your School Can Get Involved Today!

If you’re a public elementary or middle school principal who is interested in developing a sustainable system to integrate arts program into your school’s curriculum, we encourage you to consider getting involved in PAL. The program is open to public elementary and middle schools and their principals throughout Washington state. To find out more or to register your interest, contact us at