A Champion for the Arts: Jacksonville’s Superintendent Search

Policies at the district, state and federal levels all speak to the critical importance of quality arts education if we have any hope of preparing students to succeed in school and in life. What the children who attend Duval County Public Schools (DCPS) need now is a superintendent who will bring those aspirations to life and make arts learning central – not only in theory, but also in the reality of students’ daily lives.

The selection of a new superintendent for DCPS will have profound impact for years, possibly generations, to come. I am so encouraged by the School Board’s draft of a new strategic plan, which starts off right out of the gate with a goal to “promote student engagement through safe, nurturing and enriching learning environments.”

This is important because what stands out when one analyzes education systems in countries where students routinely out-perform American students and where there is less of an achievement gap among children of different socioeconomic backgrounds is that all these other countries make arts learning central to the school day every day. They utilize the arts to effectively promote student engagement.

As Yeats so beautifully put it, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” That’s what arts education does. Learning in the arts lights a fire and engages children in their studies, teaching them how to think, analyze and problem-solve.

The district’s new superintendent will set the tone when it comes to what is prioritized in a school day not only by what is messaged as important, but also by what is shown to be important by the allotment of resources – teachers, supplies, space and time for arts learning in every student’s schedule every day.

Our community’s children deserve a superintendent who understands what research shows time and time again – that #TheArtsAddUp to increased graduation rates, a stronger economy and more creative individuals equipped to solve the challenges of tomorrow both in the workplace and our civic life together.

Our children deserve a superintendent who understands why they desperately need an arts-rich education that includes not only visual arts and music, but also dance, theatre and media arts. Our children deserve dynamic learning environments that engage them and draw from all their intelligences.

The School Board’s draft strategic plan also calls for the district to “expand and improve well-rounded opportunities for the development of the whole child.” Federal education law embodied in the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act presents a tremendous opportunity to follow the lead of other countries who are surpassing us by systemically including arts learning in every child’s day. The concept of a well-rounded education, which surely includes the arts, is referenced more than 20 times and included in most of the specific Titles in the Act.

What our children need now is a superintendent who will leverage the possibilities provided by this law and other policies; who will stand up against the “STEM above all else” mentality; and who will advocate, budget, schedule and provide for increased and quality arts learning.

Please join me in helping our School Board bring such a leader to Duval County. Click here to provide feedback and help define the leadership profile of the next superintendent.

Photo credit: Susan Edelman