There are those among us who light up the sky with their passion for the work, their understanding of the educational process and their ingenuity in creating change within large institutions, including county offices of education and school districts. Jim Thomas is one of those people. Jim has been the Visual and Performing Arts Coordinator for the Orange County Office of Education for the past fourteen years. He will be “graduating” in June, though the official description says he’s “retiring.”
I had the opportunity to attend the Orange County Music and Arts Administrators (OCMAA) Awards, where over two hundred people filled the Samueli Theatre at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, to celebrate the exemplary work being done by teachers in schools throughout the county. I was there to accept, along with Pat Wayne and our Orange County Alliance for Arts Education coordinators, the Chairman’s Award for advocacy work promoting arts education. This event, like so much of what is related to arts education in Orange County, was the creation of Jim Thomas. It grew from his understanding that we all thrive within the recognition of a community. Jim has created a countywide community that elevates the mission of arts education.
That community has fostered the formation of twenty-two district-based local advocacy coalitions and prompted the majority of districts in the county to adopt arts plans. Jim looks for every opportunity to support sequential, curriculum-based, high quality arts education and for every chance to imbed arts education with arts integration learning opportunities, including Common Core and Title I programs. Jim describes leadership as what happens when a group of people decides to move forward together. He brings people together, not for his own recognition, but to empower those around him.
Those of us who have had the opportunity to work with Jim will miss the camaraderie, the easy laughter, and Jim’s deep appreciation for what the arts can contribute to the life of every student. For inspiring us along the way, Jim, we thank you.
Joe Landon, Executive Director