Riverside Unified School District embraces Community Partnerships!

Guest author: Peggy Burt, Arts Now Program Director

The Challenge: How to engage and gather input from the community for school district arts planning

The Strategy: An invitation to a meeting at the Mayor’s office!

The Story: On a lovely day in Riverside, August 15, 2017, a passionate group of arts education providers and supporters gathered in the Mayor’s Ceremonial Chamber at Riverside City Hall. As soon as you stepped into the room, you could feel the buzz of excitement! This was a moment of collaborative opportunity and an invitation to contribute to the work of enhancing and strengthening the arts in the Riverside Unified School District. Holding it at the Mayor’s office underlined the value placed on the community’s input.

Annemarie Guzy, Visual and Performing Arts Specialist, warmly welcomed the attendees. “This is a very momentous time for Riverside Unified.  With renewed support for the arts from our incredible Board, our school district is very excited to be building a future for the arts, and helping all of our students to reach their highest creative potential in drama, dance, visual arts, media arts, instrumental music and vocal music.”

Attendees included key representatives from the City of Riverside: Assistant City Manager Al Zelinka, Arts & Cultural Affairs Manager, Margie Haupt, the Riverside Unified School District School Board members Mrs. Kathy Allavie and Mrs. Patricia Lock-Dawson, Community leaders such as Collette Lee, Arts Advocate and President of the Riverside Arts Academy, Artists and Arts Organizations, the Superintendent Dr. David Hansen, Chief Academic Officer Lynn Carmen Day, Dr. Ryan Lewis, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, and University Arts faculty.

A number of individuals from the City, the community and the School Board spoke about their connection to this important work, and voiced their strong support.

Annemarie explained, “I have been here at RUSD just a short time, but with such momentum and genuine support all around, things are happening in the arts, and we are activating one of the Board’s Key Goals of ‘Strengthening the Arts to the point of excellence in the region.’ It’s really happening! And I’m so glad you are here to help us build a plan to grow our arts programs.” Collette Lee, a community champion for the arts, agreed, “our community cares about the educational opportunities of our school children, as evidenced by the diversity of the artists that attended the meeting at the Mayor’s office and shared their expertise and vision.”

Annemarie has assembled a Visionary Arts Committee to define goals for the future arts plan. A total of Six Essential Elements were developed for RUSD’s innovative, inspiring, and impactful arts education plan.

The Fourth Element, and the goal that was the focus of this convening, is Resourceful, Strategic Network of Community Engagement.

This goal aims to provide:

  1. Extended learning opportunities and career experiences;
  2. Spotlight celebrations for students, artists and the community;
  3. In-school artist residencies to share Riverside tradition, history, creativity, and diversity;
  4. An arts ecosystem between community, schools, artists, arts organizations, and the city and leveraging community resources;
  5. Communication of arts learning, celebrations and growth

Since last May, Annemarie, has been meeting with stakeholders to outline action steps for how to write an inspirational, yet realistic and comprehensive, road map for the arts at RUSD.

This convening was a critical part of this articulation plan.  Annemarie invited input to move forward and design this road map, in particular, around the fourth essential element of Community Partnerships. The group spent the morning coming up with fresh, creative ideas to coordinate community and city resources with the District, connect professional artists with students, and develop possible ways to weave the RUSD students into the arts community of Riverside.

Annemarie encouraged participants to, “Think big. Dream.  Push the arts forward unconventionally.  Reach into your own past as an artist.  Unlock new opportunities from Riverside’s gold mine of community resources.  Imagine a strong arts network that can support our students, your community’s youth, to become a creative, collaborative and innovative future generation.”

The group brought their ideas to life, wrote, defined and drew on the tablecloth papers to articulate a shared vision of connecting artists, arts organizations and nearby universities with the work of the District around the Arts Plan. Dr. Stacey Fraser, Professor at California State University San Bernardino and Director of Opera Theatre, said, "this was a fantastic opportunity to get to know the mission of the Visual and Performing Arts team within the Riverside Unified School District and to brainstorm with professionals, administrators and students across the Inland Empire who have a passion for arts education. This was an inspiring session that revealed the outstanding creativity and passion for the arts here in our community and how we may share this passion with the young creative minds of the RUSD student body."

Annemarie is now putting all of the ideas together that have been collected from so many stakeholders, and will present them as a comprehensive Arts Plan to the RUSD School Board in January.  Her next input and listening session will be with parents, students, and then the broader Riverside community.

The California Alliance for Arts Education believes that working in this collaborative way – bringing leadership together from all different sectors - is a key element for a successful Strategic Arts Plan that gets implemented. The Alliance has captured this and other important practices in its Insider’s Guide for Arts Education Planning, produced in partnership with the Arts Education Collective.

According to the guide, here are key stakeholders to include:

  • Business Leaders
  • Community Artist
  • Teacher Artist
  • Director of Curriculum and Instruction
  • District Arts Coordinator
  • Education Foundation
  • Philanthropic Foundation
  • Principal
  • Parent Teacher Association member
  • School Board Member
  • Student Leader
  • Superintendent/Deputy Superintendent 

With ongoing support from the California Alliance for Arts Education, Annemarie Guzy is bringing a vision to life for ALL the students of Riverside Unified School District, providing access and equity to arts education.

For more information on the Alliances’ Arts Now Planning Initiative, please contact Peggy Burt, Arts Now Program Director at peggy (at) artsed411.org.  With great thanks to Annemarie Guzy, Visual and Performing Arts Specialist, Riverside Unified School District and to the leadership of the Riverside Unified School District and the City of Riverside.