Local school district serves as model arts citizen

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Jackson Browne, Ozomatli to perform special benefit concert for Santa Monica-Malibu schools.

By Hans Laetz / Special to The Malibu Times

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District has been tapped by Los Angeles arts advocates to serve as a template for a hoped for resurrection of arts classes in local schools.

Arts for All, an arts advocacy group funded by the county and major arts institutions in the area, views the local school district as a model.

“Santa Monica-Malibu is a tremendous role model for the other schools in the state,” said Arts for All coordinator Ayanna Higgins at a news conference last week.

Higgins cited the district’s commitment to offer an arts class to every single student, an unusual responsibility given shrinking state commitments for basic education.

The group also cited financial support from the cities of Malibu and Santa Monica for the local public schools. “There are simply no other agreements like that in California,” Higgins said.

The district has just committed $60,000 for a two-year, matching funds grant to further a nine-year arts initiative that started with the writing of a standards-based curriculum, giving arts teachers for the first time measurable standards and goals for student achievement.

SMMUSD fine arts coordinator Tom Whaley has written the curriculum. That, plus the district’s commitment to arts education, is being used as a pattern for nine additional school districts in Los Angeles County this year, including Beverly Hills and Culver City.

Higgins noted that the SMMUSD’s 12,500 students include many from working families that cannot afford musical instruments. Every one of those children has been offered the opportunity to learn a musical instrument thanks to district, business and parent contributions and fundraising.

Superintendent John Deasy noted that the commitment to the arts has resulted in tripling the number of students taking arts classes in grades 4-12 at a time when the SMMUSD is also stressed to increase other educational efforts.

“But it’s not a question of ‘how can we afford to do this?'” Deasy said. “Rather, it’s a question of ‘how can we afford not to?'”

Furthering the arts for the SMMUSD, a special benefit concert, featuring Jackson Browne, Ozomatli and Venice, in support of the Education Foundation of Santa Monica-Malibu’s For the Arts Endowment Fund, will take place June 5, 2 p.m., at the Memorial Greek Theatre on the campus of Santa Monica High.

The For the Arts Fund, once its endowment goals are met, provides ongoing donation to music programs to all of the SMMUSD’s schools, according to a report by Yahoo! Finance. It will also provide the following music program’s to the district’s neediest schools next year: 3rd grade general music in the four Title 1 elementary schools; 4th and 5th grade choral music in the four Title 1 elementary schools; and Dream Winds, which provides semi-private instrumental instruction, at the two Santa Monica middle schools. Tickets go on sale May 14 at all TicketMaster outlets.