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LA Unified schools soon to come alive with the sound of music

Hayley Fox | June 29, 2015

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LA Unified students-violin-artsLos Angeles’ schools are alive with the sound of music, or at least, they will be come fall when LA Unified’s new-and-improved arts budget is put into practice.

Last week, the school board approved the district’s 2015-2016 spending plan, which allocates $26.5 million to arts education, said Rory Pullens, executive director of arts education for the district. This funding represents a $4 million increase from last year and an overall vast improvement from the “years of decline that we’ve been existing in since the economic downturn,” he told LA School Report.

Some of this money will go toward hiring instrumental music teachers so schools that already have instruments can bring them out of storage and put them into the hands of students, he said. Locations that aren’t so lucky will get money to purchase violins, cellos, guitars and other pieces need to put together an orchestra, as well as to provide teachers the professional development they need to be effective.

“The most important factor in a child’s education is who that teacher is and how qualified and equipped they are,” Pullens said.

The upcoming school year also marks the beginning of the Industry Adopt-A-School program, established by Pullens to connect LA’s robust arts and entertainment businesses to LAUSD students.

“It is our students who are ultimately going to be their workforce of the future,” he said.

This partnership not only establishes apprenticeships and connects industry mentors with kids and teens but also aims to bring professional equipment, such as lighting and sound gear, into schools for the students to train on. By establishing industry ties now, arts education will have a better chance at flourishing even when funding begins to lag. 

LAUSD shouldn’t be operating in a silo, said Pullens, so he plans to also showcase students’ artistic development by bringing them out of the schools and into the community through public art festivals.

Much of the arts overhaul comes as a result of the district’s new “Arts Equity Index,” created to identify the schools most in need of arts education.

“We haven’t forgotten you…your students are just as valuable as any other student,” Pullens said of these neglected schools.

After much wooing by the LAUSD, Pullens came to Los Angeles last year under a one-year contract. He was recruited from his position leading the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington D.C., where he employed the help of celebrities like Stevie Wonder and Paul Simon to raise funding for the school.

Pullens has since signed a new one-year agreement with LAUSD that will keep him in Los Angeles until at least 2016.

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