Arts Education in Rural Communities

Butte County

Name of County: Butte County Office of Education
Region: 2
County Superintendent: Mary Sakuma, Butte County Superintendent of Schools
Cohort Lead: Jennifer Spangler, Arts Education Coordinator and Region 2 Arts Lead

Butte County is named for the Sutter Buttes which are a unique collection of volcanic domes formed when magma pushed upward through the sediment of the Sacramento Valley nearly 1.6 million years ago.  The county lies along the western slope of the Sierra Nevada.

Upper left, upper middle, and lower right photos taken by Cris Guenter, Ed.D., Professor Emerita of Education, California State University, Chico

About Butte County

Butte county’s agricultural-based economy has diversified over the decades so that now 40% of employed people in the county work in retail, food service, or health care and social assistance; ten percent are employed in educational services; and approximately four percent list occupations in agriculture, forestry, fishing, or hunting.

Butte means “small knoll” or “small hill” in French. Butte County was incorporated as one of California’s 19 original counties on 18 February 1850. The county is drained by the Feather River and Butte Creek. Part of the county’s western border is formed by the Sacramento River. The county lies along the western slope of the Sierra Nevada, the steep slopes making it prime territory for the siting of hydroelectric power plants. About a half dozen of these plants are located in the county, one of which, serves the Oroville Dam which became severely stressed by overflow water in 2017, and which remains a concern today. The entire county of Butte (population 225,207) is rural according to the California Rural Education Network.

 According to a 2013 study, Butte County has the highest prevalence of residents living with one or more Adverse Childhood Experiences score (ACEs) in California at 76.5% of residents, with 30.3% having experienced four or more ACEs. This fact has influenced the Butte County Office of Education (BCOE) and other public agencies in the county to invest in research and programs to address this phenomenon.

Another burden confronting the county is the devastating wildfires in and near the town of Paradise in November 2018. Since then, the socioeconomic status of displaced students has worsened as families continue to seek jobs and housing in nearby towns. For example, the city of Chico, experienced a 20 % increase in population overnight. However, all towns and school districts in Butte County have felt the impact of more displaced and homeless citizens. For rural school districts this is compounded by the struggles already associated with rural schools such as budget concerns, poverty, and personnel serving multiple tasks.

The Butte County Office of Education provides leadership, service and support to the 14 local districts that include 91 public schools and 18 charter schools. 

Unique Characteristics

Child’s hand painting a yelow house on a mural. Concepts : learning; art; childhood; painting. Snapshot, selective focus.

Grazing land is the predominant geographic feature of the valley community although on a clear day, you can see the Mendocino Mountain range to the west and the Sierra foothills to the east. In addition, nut and fruit orchards dot the landscape. Historically, Butte County has been known for its farming communities. For example, the ripe olive was invented in Oroville by Freda Ehmann, a farmer who has been credited with launching California’s olive industry by perfecting a process to preserve the fruit for shipment. The county can be characterized as traditional farming communities with large expanses of open space.

Characteristically, the county’s population center of Chico is home to one of the largest municipal parks in the United States. Bidwell Park comprises 3,700 acres. Chico is also home to the largest arts community in the North State comprising multiple theaters, galleries, museums and artist studios.

Key Strategic Goals of the County Strategic Arts Plan

In 2016, the Butte County Office of Education (BCOE) was the first county in Northern California to adopt an Arts Education Strategic Plan under the guidance of former Butte County Superintendent of Schools Tim Taylor. Mr. Taylor’s reasoning was based on his own personal experience as an artist and “from the evidence I have seen in schools and from the research, that arts education must be a vital part of every child’s education.” Two years later the BCOE Board adopted the Declaration of the Rights of All Students to Equity in Arts Learning.

Following are the five Key Goals of the Plan:

  • Goal 1. Support Equity and Access to Arts Education;
  • Goal 2. Increase Arts Education Funding, Resources, and Staffing;
  • Goal 3. Provide Quality Arts Education Professional Development;
  • Goal 4. Develop County, District, and Schools Arts Education Leadership; and
  • Goal 5. Increase Partnerships, Collaborations, and Advocacy.

The existence of the plan has provided credibility to the BCOE commitment to arts education and has helped to guide our leadership role in the county and region.

In the fall of 2018, the BCOE Superintendent led the effort to form a regional partnership of districts in eight of the nine counties of the north state and obtain funding through the California Department of Education’s Student Success and Academic Enrichment (SSAE) Program. The North State Arts Education Consortium (NSAEC) came into existence with a large grant to build capacity for arts education in the region. County and district partners in the consortium received significant funds for Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA) equipment and 200 teachers received up to 30 hours of professional development in arts education. In addition, 11 school districts in Butte County received funding for equipment to support learning in the visual and performing arts.

Highlights and Strategic Directions Taken in the Implementation of the Strategic Arts Plan

Implementation Goals

With support from the Stuart Foundation, we instituted the Butte County Rural Outreach and Arts Integration Initiative in the fall of 2019 in order to further implement our plan. We focused on two goals:

Support Equity and Access to Arts Education
Our most rural districts directly correlate to the least arts learning opportunities and within those districts elementary education has the least arts learning for students. Therefore, we focused on providing professional learning experiences to K-8 teachers in these rural districts.

Develop County, District and School Arts Education Leadership
We expanded our leadership team with more representation from small school districts and the local community college. We will continue to engage, support, and inspire administrators, teachers, and community members to become advocates.

We spotlighted arts learning that already exists in rural schools to demonstrate best practices and to nurture leaders among school and district staff to feel pride, inspiration, and commitment to arts education.

Highlighted Accomplishments

We partnered with our local community college with a campus in Oroville and held a daylong professional learning event for rural teachers K-8. It focused on integrating the arts with another core subject and on social emotional learning. Sessions focused on learning strategies in music, dance and visual art and social emotional learning competencies of social awareness, self-awareness and relationship skills. We kept the participation number to 30 so we could build a coherent learning community. We ended up with a waiting list of educators who wanted to be a part of the professional development. The evaluations were excellent and pointed us in the direction of future workshops such as going deeper into lesson planning, increasing focus on Social Emotional Learning (SEL), and providing  workshops on theatre arts and media arts. 

We were able to get pro bono work from Ray Morgan Companies Video and Marketing Department to interview five rural school teachers on arts learning. These teachers represent the gems in arts learning that already exist in our rural schools. The video showcases two arts integration classes at the elementary level, one band director at a middle school, one high school visual art teacher and one high school drama teacher at a charter school. We notified the principals in advance of the filming and this resulted in a great deal of pride among them, some of whom stopped by the classrooms to see the taping.

We held three Arts Education Strategic Planning Committee meetings in arts venues in Oroville and Chico. The goal was to make the meetings relevant to the members by highlighting funding sources and new resources that they might explore for their own programs. Ideas for making big changes in the landscape of arts education got them engaged, inspired and excited. There was measurable success. One idea was to brainstorm and envision creating a California Arts Council Cultural District that would include an education component.

Another example was exploring how to affect LCAP funding for arts education. The California Alliance for Arts Education presented this at our December meeting. It was very informative and inspiring. A community college art history teacher later shared that the presentation taught her to carefully read information about funding and to ask questions. She wanted to get as many people involved with the school district’s LCAP process, so she talked with her college students. The students wondered why they did not get exposed to the arts in their public school education. She said that many of them were interested in learning about the LCAP process and they wanted to make a difference for the next generation. Our plan will serve as a model for districts in our county, none of which have an arts education strategic plan, and we are now in a position to apply for a “collective impact” grant from a national foundation.

Greatest Advances

The Arts Education Strategic Plan has provided a compass to guide our work in the arts. As programs, projects, and initiatives come along, the Strategic Directions of the plan function as our North Star and help us to stay focused. Although that sounds as if the plan might limit the scope and scale of potential programming, it actually opens the door for connections with non-traditional partners. The plan is focused in its vision, but expansive in its paths to get there. Designed as a true cross-sector collaboration, the goals in the Arts Education Strategic Plan enable work beyond the classroom and into the community.

What lessons are you learning through the implementation of your plan?

Content: Teaching and Learning in and through the Arts /Professional Development. Multi-Subject classroom teachers are eager to learn how to add the arts to their teaching in order to improve engagement and learning as well as improve Social and Emotional Learning competencies that they believe are inherent in the arts. The need for SEL is high in our county.

Infrastructure: Teaching Staff/ Facilities/ Resources
Art materials for visual art classes are expensive as are instruments for music programs. Any support for these needs is appreciated.

Collaborations/Partnerships: Networks/Cross-County Collaboration(s);Interdisciplinary programs/efforts.There is great potential in working with our community college. We now have two community college art professors who are active on our Arts Education Strategic Planning Committee. In addition, BCOE staff who joined the daylong professional learning event as curriculum specialists and facilitators are now advocates of arts learning and arts integration.

Sustainability: Funding/ Program Evaluation/Effective Use of Data/Community Involvement/ Advocacy – The Strategic Planning Committee is more representative, larger, and energized.

Adoption of The Declaration of the Rights of All Students to Equity in Arts Learning or other policies -The Declaration was adopted by the Butte County Office of Education  in 2018.

Technology to support Arts Learning
We utilize CTE On-line for professional learning

Value Statement – How has this work been valuable for your county?

“When we teach and encourage creativity, imagination, and innovation through the arts, we are opening up the world to our children, who will become the next generation of our teachers, our business professionals and our leaders. This isn’t about creating professional artists, although when that happens it is something to celebrate. It’s about instilling in our students a life-long love of the arts, and through the arts, helping us develop a better understanding of the human condition.” – Mary von Rotz Sakuma, Butte County Superintendent of Schools

Quotes from educators after the Arts Integration Professional Learning Day:

“Thank you so much for all of the thoughtful investment of professional speakers, quality resources, and a wonderful meal, too! These opportunities to collaboratively explore creative outlets for kids are invaluable.”

“I have been gushing since we left today about the presenters, activities and organization of today’s events. I loved all of it; thank you for all you did to make it so amazing! I was wondering if you could give me some advice on getting my supplemental art credential. I think I’d like to pursue that avenue. Thank you so much!”

“Even though I’ve had many years of experience in teaching VAPA, I came away with a renewed energy to incorporate drumming and dance!”

“I now realize it’s easy to differentiate and include everyone. And I loved the chance to do it!”

“I would love to bring other staff members [next time].”

“Most valuable to me from the day was strengthening my growth mindset.”

“I have renewed energy to bring arts in!”