The Pajaro Valley has a beautiful and rich culture of visual and performing arts. From long established dance groups, murals, music, film, to the new arts presence along Main Street in downtown Watsonville, art is an essential part of our lives.
As a professional artist and longtime volunteer for Pajaro Valley Arts, I see that visual and performing arts are becoming driving forces in the rejuvenation of downtown Watsonville. The arts are crucial components toward building cultural identity and creating economic vitality.
My hope, as an arts education advocate through Arts Now Pajaro Valley, is that the excitement around the arts in our community would be mirrored and amplified by the Pajaro Valley Unified School District (PVUSD). It is my hope that the trajectory of growth in arts education in the district for the last 10 years would continue to the point of equitable access for all students in the district, as required by the state. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
Earlier this year, the visual art community was shocked to learn that the administration had decided to phase out six visual art teacher positions from PVUSD elementary schools. This decision followed the loss of two other visual art positions in previous years, meaning a total loss of eight visual art teachers from our schools over the past few years. The move was made despite the fact that it contradicted the LCAP and current arts plan, without public input, and without consulting the Board of Trustees.
After teachers and principals were notified that some art teachers would not be returning or forced to split multiple school sites, the Board of Trustees demanded answers and continued to study the issue, saving multiple positions from being diluted or cut. Yet a few elementary schools remain in limbo as to whether they will have an art teacher this year.
As discussions have continued, it has become apparent that key administrators were trying to phase out visual art teachers/specialists at the elementary level while increasing music programming instead. Their actions demonstrate that they do not understand the educational value of a robust visual arts program, which includes improving test scores and increasing attendance.
This is particularly disappointing when California voters passed Proposition 28 in November 2022 with the sole purpose of augmenting both visual art, and performing arts programs in the schools.
Indeed, English, Language Arts, Math, Science, Visual and Performing Arts, and PE are all core subject areas, as required by California law. Student schedules must have continual, developmentally appropriate, skill-building, arts instruction from Kindergarten through 12th grade.
But at PVUSD, directives seem to be issued from the Budget and HR offices that aren’t designed to uplift educational programming. Instead, these individuals determine school staffing mostly in terms of numbers and minutes that often short-change the staff needed to teach quality art programs at each school site.
Currently this means that instead of using Proposition 28 to expand art programs, PVUSD is using the money to maintain existing programs or even in some cases, even reduce them.
Their excuse is the same excuse they have used to justify cutting anything good from our schools: declining enrollment. While declining enrollment is real, this does not mean that the District must repeat the senseless cuts to the arts that we have seen in the past, especially when the district has stockpiled tens of millions of dollars of reserves in recent years.
For those of us who are long-time observers and community partners of the District, we can’t help but notice dozens of additional staff working at the District office. It is absurd that the district has not relied upon the knowledge and expertise of administrative staff in all curriculum areas to creatively and cooperatively resolve the issues of providing outstanding, equitable and sequential education in state mandated core coursework.
It is time for PVUSD to make real investments in visual and performing arts that our kids deserve. Clearly, the arts benefit students in numerous ways including building social skills, creativity and imagination. The arts engage students and bring joy to learning. The arts teach critical thinking, empathy and resilience, while supporting learning in all other content areas.
The Superintendent and Board of Trustees must work together to find real solutions, and not defer to certain cabinet members who don’t value the arts.
Finally, our community must come together to support the arts in our schools. Come to board meetings, write your elected board trustees, and let’s activate our community.
Judy Stabile is a longtime local arts advocate. Her opinions are her own and not necessarily those of the Pajaronian.