How a District’s Elementary Schools Went from 1 Art Teacher to 20

The Challenge: An Arts Plan Was Never Fully Implemented

The Strategy: Community Engagement

The Story: When the Santa Cruz County Alliance for Arts Education (SCCAAE) launched in 2012, there was longstanding support in the community for arts, but great disparities between arts offerings across school districts in the county. The largest district in the county, Pajaro Valley Unified School District (PVUSD), had an arts plan in place, but had never fully implemented it. Among its 17 elementary schools there was only .2 Full Time Equivalent visual arts teacher.

PVUSD is located in a rural area of the county and serves a large population of English Language Learners (ELL) and students with free or reduced lunches. The district receives Title I funding and supplemental and concentration grants through California’s Local Control Funding Formula. District leaders wanted to expand arts offerings, but had competing priorities and issues to address.

The Santa Cruz Alliance was comprised of a handful of passionate, motivated parents, Arts partners, as well as the district and county Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA) Coordinators. The group was anchored at the Arts Council Santa Cruz County and a member of a statewide network of advocacy groups supported by the California Alliance for Arts Education. Here are the steps advocates took to build a relationship with the district, act as a solutions partners and ensure that this time, the arts plan got implemented. Sarah Brothers, Arts Education Manager for the Arts Council, spearheaded the work and shared the story with us. 


  • Members of the Santa Cruz County Alliance attended school board meetings and listened. They sought to understand the challenges and priorities of the district
  • They invited the Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent, Directors of Curriculum District VAPA and County Office VAPA to meet with local arts providers. Advocates made it clear that they wanted to support the districts overall goal to provide quality education and to offer solutions for increasing arts education. Together, they looked at what was currently in place across the district in an atmosphere of partnership rather than accusation. This meeting helped to forge a positive partnership and a sense of trust.


  • Based on their positive meeting, advocates were given time on an upcoming Board Meeting to describe current offerings and suggest solutions
  • Based on their conversations with District leadership, advocates had come up with a specific ask that had support from the Superintendent: Update the District’s Arts Plan and Add FTE teachers to elementary schools. As it happened, the district was hoping to find release time for their elementary teachers, so hiring FTE VAPA specialists could address both needs
  • In addition to a presentation by the district VAPA, there were also parents, teachers and a community member from a nearby university in attendance to offer ideas during the public comment section
  • Additional supporters, wearing arts buttons and bearing flyers were there to show support
  • After a robust and well-received presentation to the school board meetings, advocates sent follow up emails thanking school board members and offering their support to move forward


  • In order to ensure that the District Arts Plan and Classroom Staffing became a reality, Arts advocates carried their message to the annual LCAP meetings hosted by the District to gather community input
  • Because a District must document input and document actions and services on an annual basis, having these arts actions included meant that the District has identified funds and would be accountable to report on spending them, progress of the arts plan and teacher hires

The California Alliance believes that District leadership, Arts Plan and Community support are the keystone for building a strong, sustainable arts program.




Thanks to the efforts of the Santa Cruz Alliance, in 2014, PVUSD increased funding to the arts in the LCAP to over $1.3 million to hire 20 VAPA specialists, and set aside $5,000 toward updating the district’s arts plan. Funding for the arts was increased again in 2015 in the LCAP to $2.8 million. The Alliance continued to support the district by organizing county-wide supplies drives for district VAPA teachers, providing professional development for arts specialists, providing input for the update of the district arts plan, and continued presence at LCAP town hall meetings. This year, PVUSD’s most recent LCAP indicated full implementation of all actions in PVUSD Arts Plan! All planned actions but one were implemented.