I was talking recently with a friend and colleague who expressed disappointment over how things turned out with the appointment of the arts education czar in her local school district.
She spoke about how much effort went into advocating with district leadership for the creation of the position, how enormously high the hopes were for success, and how different the relationship between the czar and the arts education community ended up being from what was initially envisioned.
I was once part of creating such a position. In 1994, as part of the planning team that helped created The Center for Arts Education, I personally negotiated the creation of the district arts supervisor position with the then Deputy Chancellor, Judith Rizzo. It was the first senior position for the arts in the New York City public school district in many years. In addition, I negotiated the first dedicated arts line in many years from the New York City public schools.
In the end, while being extremely important, the position, whether is be District Arts Supervisor, District Arts Coordinator, Executive Director of the Arts Department, or arts education czar, is a nothing more than a piece of a larger puzzle.
Here are a few additional thoughts:
arts education is important, but should not mean that the superintendent and
school board are left unengaged by the arts education community. This position
should not become a gatekeeper nor proxy for the most high level policy makers within a
school district provides adequate staffing to support quality arts learning from within
(through certified arts teachers, etc.), providing arts education is thus partially
dependent on the arts community to provide instruction, funding,
supplies, experiences, etc. Therefore, what is really required of these
arts supervisors/czars is to be a good partner with those outside of the school district; to be an fierce advocate within the district for the arts; and to ultimately
share some of the authority for what they are held responsible for. Should I repeat that?. Got it? I know, it’s radical.
words this position should embody the public-private partnership. For those working to establish such a position, they should advocate for it to be crafted as such by the superintendent and school board. In particular, this
is what funders should insist upon in return for their help in making these
positions possible. And yes, such a job description would be a very progressive step for any school district.
cease advocacy efforts, but should be precisely the opposite. Advocacy efforts
should be expanded, and as much as possible be in partnership with this
position/district, but not beholden to it.
comfortable in disagreeing with the position of the arts education czar.
Sometimes the czar is called upon to deliver news and implement policies they do
not support, and it is critical to remember that what is best for the children
must come first.
5. Remember, that unless the position is structured as in the highly unlikely way referenced in the above, the district supervisor/czar works for the superintendent and will do what they are told or have to catch a bus with a one way ticket. Problems arise when people become confused about this.
The arts education czar is indeed an important part of the puzzle, but should not be cause for allowing community efforts to dwindle.
My three cents…