Arts Education in Rural Communities

Nevada County

Name of County: Nevada County Office of Education
Region: 3
County Superintendent: Scott W. Lay, Nevada County Superintendent of Schools
Cohort Lead: Teena Corker, Associate Superintendent of Educational Services
County Arts Lead: Nancy Jackson

The unique history of Nevada County begins prior to the Gold Rush when there were an estimated 4,000 Northern Maidu or Nisenan Indians inhabiting the area. With the discovery of gold in 1848, some of the first settlers came to Penn Valley to work the mines. The first wagons to cross the Sierra Nevada that opened the Truckee route of the California trail came through Nevada County.

About Nevada County

Nevada County is located in the Sierra Nevada, in California. It is one of the most historic and scenic areas of our state. It is a rural county comprising 978 square miles in northern California, with a population of approximately 99,000. The three incorporated cities are Grass Valley, Nevada City, and Truckee.

Most of the population (65,000) lives in the unincorporated areas. The Grass Valley/Nevada City area in the west and Truckee area in the east are separated by approximately 45 miles of National Forest and the Donner Summit mountain pass at 7,000 feet elevation.

Nevada County is home to over 11,000 students (excluding the Truckee area). This includes eight elementary school districts, one comprehensive high school district, seven independent charter schools, and one community college. Schools are located across Nevada County from the south end, near Auburn and Penn Valley to the north end, San Juan Ridge. All of which pride themselves in working collaboratively to maximize tax payer dollars, while delivering a quality educational experience for the students. 

Unique Characteristics

The unique history of Nevada County begins prior to the Gold Rush when there were an estimated 4,000 Northern Maidu or Nisenan Indians inhabiting the area. With the discovery of gold in 1848, the first white settlers came to Penn Valley to work the mines. The first wagons to cross the Sierra Nevada that opened the Truckee route of the California trail came through Nevada County. The County was the site of the infamous Donner Party tragedy as well as being the center of the northern mines during the Gold Rush. Portions of the first transcontinental railroad and the first transcontinental automobile road were located within the County.  Famous stage personalities, writers, politicians, and industrialists emanated from or found homes in the County.  More recently, Nevada County’s high tech firms, outstanding schools, rich artistic community, cultural attractions, and scenic natural resources make it a desirable location for residents and visitors alike.

Description of the Arts Strategic Planning Process

In 2019, the Nevada County Arts Council collected school district data on student access to arts education. Results of their survey showed that enrollment in arts courses varies across districts from little access to far exceeding state averages of student access to arts courses. The data showed virtually no student has access to regular, standards-based arts instruction in the five designated disciplines: visual arts, media, music, dance and theatre. This data served as our springboard in writing our Arts Strategic Plan to address these gaps.

The Arts Strategic Planning Committee included 33 members from across the County representing varied organizations. The committee included school administrators (from school districts and the County Office of Education), directors of local Arts Organizations, Nevada County Arts Council members, teaching artists, local artists, a school counselor, career pathways coordinators, three parents (representatives from an elementary, middle and high school level), six teachers (representatives from an elementary, middle and high school) and three students from the high school. The committee met three times, each a full day: December 4, 2019, January 15, 2020 and February 13, 2020.

Led by Jim Thomas, our consultant from the California Alliance for Arts Education, each meeting was focused on different components of our plan:

Meeting 1 (December 4, 2019)

  • Reviewed the “State of the Arts” needs assessment conducted by the Nevada County Arts Council
  • Discussed elements of a Quality Arts Education
  • Created our 5-year vision for arts in the county
  • Acknowledged our current strengths and challenges in arts education in the county

Meeting 2 (January 15, 2020)

  • Developed our goals for a county wide arts education plan
  • Determined our strategic direction by developing a hierarchy chart where we began to think about partnerships, relationships, creating buy-in from community and schools and discussing how the model of Improvement Science can be aligned with the implementation of this plan (starting small, building momentum and success, creating sustainability and spreading access)

Meeting 3 (February 13, 2020)

  • Developed our actions and recommendations
  • Reviewed and reflected on overall progress of process
  • Discussed next steps

Facilitator Jim Thomas leads important strategic planning sessions with stakeholders on the planning committee.

Highlights of Key Goals in The Strategic Arts Plan

The Nevada County Strategic Arts Plan has three goals: Supporting Schools to Understand and Use the Arts Standards and Framework, Coordinate Resources to Support Arts Education, and Ensure the Sustainability of Arts Education in Nevada County. Some of the key focus areas we will be addressing within these goals include:

  • Building the capacity of teachers to understand and use the Arts Standards and Framework by providing professional development and developing a Community of Practice for the Arts and an arts leadership team for ongoing collaboration across the county.
  • Increasing instructional support for districts and teachers by providing instructional coaching which includes support for coordination of program services to districts and integration of the arts cross curricular areas.
  • Hosting a Summer Institute Arts Camp for TK-12 educators to support the development of lesson plans, and provide resources, technology resources and other tools.
  • Compiling resources for Arts Education by providing opportunities to share credentialing information, career pathways, and collaborate with local high school CTE teachers.
  • Raising public awareness for arts education by showcasing student learning through participation in local arts events where students work is highlighted and promoted through the media and local publications. This can also mean an improvement in communication with districts, teachers and community in promoting arts events at schools and throughout their school communities.
  • Engaging the community to improve and sustain the arts plan by hosting annual gatherings of the arts committee to evaluate the strategic arts plan, conduct a needs assessment survey, evaluate successes and current challenges in the implementation of the plan and determine revisions and priorities for the coming year.
  • Securing sustainable funding by disseminating information regarding arts grants to the committee, arts organizations and schools and utilize our arts leadership team as a resource for grant writing.
  • The Nevada County Superintendent of Schools Education Board will adopt the Declaration of the Rights of All Students to Equity in Arts Learning and will encourage other county districts and charters to consider similar adoption. 

Highlights and Strategic Directions Taken as a Result of the Strategic Arts Plan

Strategic Arts Plan Direction: Support Schools to Understand and Use the Arts Standards and Framework:

  • Progress for Element 1 (Build capacity of teachers to understand and use the Arts Standards and Framework)
  • Created an Arts Cohort of county-wide Arts Leads
  • Arts Coordinator provided professional development to Arts Cohort and LEAs which also included SEL integration
  • Arts Cohort created an inventory of vetted lesson plans, resources and tools
  • Arts Cohort developed a needs assessment survey
  • Progress for Element 2 (Increase instructional support for districts and teachers)
  • Arts Coordinator provided instructional coaching and support for coordination of art program services for LEAs
  • Increased time for the Arts Coordinator

Strategic Plan Direction: Ensuring the Sustainability of Arts Education in Nevada County

  • Progress for Element 6 (Engage the community to improve and sustain the arts plan)
  • County Office hosted the Strategic Arts Plan Community of Practice meeting in the Spring of 2021 with original planning committee members (next meeting is planned for Spring, 2022)
  • Arts Coordinator facilitated the Community of Practice meeting with updated information on the progress of implementation actions, successes, gaps and priorities of the Strategic Arts Plan and goals for moving forward
  • Arts Leads Coaching Sessions with Peggy Burt, Mindful Practices ,and CCSESA Arts Consultant

According to our Work Plan Narrative from Arts Plan, Element#1, 2 & 6 of our plan has been activated through support from CCSESA and hopefully will continue to build steam beyond the grant.


  • In collaboration with the County Superintendent of Schools, the Arts Coordinator produces a bi-monthly radio show hosted by our local radio station KVMR89.5FM and often highlights arts-happenings across the county within our school districts and community organizations through interviews with students, teachers, professional artists and community partners. This radio program is called “Educationally Speaking “and occurs on the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month.
  • The Bridgeport Art Competition, launched in Jan 2020, provided students in grades K-12 an opportunity to compete in a challenge to create a poster, painting, collage or video depicting the history of the South Yuba River State Park and Bridgeport Covered Bridge. Students submitted visual and multimedia presentations and winners were awarded at each grade level. Nevada County Superintendent of Schools (NCSOS)collaborated with the Save our Bridge Campaign Committee to host this competition and recognize students for their work. The art work of the grand prize winners was displayed at the Bridgeport Bridge re-opening ceremony and these students were the first to cross the newly restored bridge.
  • Despite the challenges that COVID-19 brought, the impact on being able to support the actions from the Strategic Arts Plan and delivery of services were minimal.

What have you seen as the greatest advances in implementing your strategic arts plan?

The greatest advances are that teachers are becoming knowledgeable about the importance of arts education and its benefits toward student’s social and emotional well-being. The needs survey conducted will help guide efforts in the work forward. With the additional funding from this sub-grant, we were able to advance some of the elements from the plan.

As a result of your implementation, what actions are making an impact?

  • The arts leads teachers are supporting arts education at their school sites through the offer of training and sharing of resources and tools (lesson plans, videos and much more).

What have you seen change in your county as a result of this implementation support?

  • Teachers and administrators are more aware of the value of the alignment between Arts Education and Social Emotional Learning (SEL) as a benefit for the students’ well-being.

Value Statement – How Has This Been Valuable for Your County?

What have you seen as the value of arts strategic planning in your county?

  • We brought together a collaborative group of individuals from across the county and created a community and culture of advocacy for arts education across the county.
  • The arts committee collectively developed a plan that will move forward and be adopted by the Nevada County Superintendent of Schools.

What have you seen change in your county as a result of this planning process?

  • A collective enthusiasm and hope for increased arts education and equal access of an arts education for all students.


I value how our arts education needs survey gave us (arts leads) concrete data of the needs of our teachers regarding ARTS EDUCATION needs and that will drive our next actionable steps in arts education and with our Art Leads Community of Practice.”
-Andrea Conte, Nevada City School of the Arts

“The Nevada County community has shown its commitment to arts education for all students with this plan. The Nevada County Superintendent of Schools connects the rural districts and can facilitate implementation of the plan. The structure of the county schools presents some unique challenges in articulating arts education from the elementary districts to the joint union high school district. Attaining implementation funding would be critical in bringing this plan to scale.”
Jim Thomas, Arts Planning Facilitator

When we learn about art in school, I always feel the best.”
– Third grader from Grass Valley SD.

“What I’m learning in Makers Space classes is real world applications and about possible future careers, along with
being super fun!”
– Eighth grader, Nevada City School District

“Arts education, SEL trainings, lessons and activities are crucial in today’s classroom and all teachers need more
focused, practical strategies to deliver. Less lecture, more hands-on learning forthe arts & SEL please.”
-Valerie Stuart, Forest Charter School

“The arts in our schools are part of the glue that keeps students engaged and focused.  Often, academic lessons (math, science, reading and writing) can all be brought to life through art. The strategic arts plan is critical for our County as it serves as a catalyst for all leaders to use when examining their needs versus what is readily available. It is also important to note that this plan was not just created by the arts professional in the community, or just by educators, but is a document with input from stakeholders. We each learned about the challenges and successes throughout the County/District programs and have a better understanding of overall needs. We can now use this information as a springboard for future years of planning and implementation.”
– Torie Gibson, Superintendent, Penn Valley Union Elementary School District 

“We know that learning is richer, deeper and more enduring when it includes movement and action, and when the learner has an emotional connection to the subject. The arts are uniquely positioned to provide all of these essential features.”
-Donn Harris, President, Nevada County Arts Council

“Art was always one of my favorite subjects in school from sculpting with clay to painting on canvas. It was not so much the medium of the art we were doing, but I remember the feeling I got when doing art. Freedom of expression, trying new techniques, taking risks and changing things up when it didn’t go as planned; because I was taught there are no mistakes, only happy accidents. Arts keep people motivated and engaged in what they are doing and throughout the process of the development of this plan I witnessed everyone motivated and engaged. I guess we all remember how the arts make us feel and how we want that for all our students. It was a privilege to be a part of this amazing group of people and collaborative effort to write a plan and work towards implementation; despite ongoing funding challenges for rural county schools.”
-Teena Corker, Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services, Nevada County Office of Education

“As Arts Coordinator for the County, I feel especially empowered with the knowledge and data that proves, undoubtedly, that through the arts, children learn what they need to succeed. The arts nurture and build 21st Century skills like creativity, communication, collaboration, cultural sensitivity and critical thinking. The arts build confidence, scaffolding for perseverance and stamina, improves students’ engagement and can improve attendance and even state test scores. Our County has the artistic strength and community partnerships to bridge the gaps we currently have in our school system regarding the arts. Teaching artists, arts organizations, arts-related businesses and school districts can provide more arts exposure and equity to all students, along with introducing arts integration lesson planning into all subjects across the curriculum. With all of these elements, one action at a time, we will benefit our students with the gifts of the arts that help create the whole child.”
Kimberly Ewing, Arts Coordinator, Nevada County Office of Education

The arts prepare our students to be creative problem solvers. The world doesn’t need as many people who can solve problems that we already know the answers to; and can easily confirm that answer with a calculator. The world needs people to solve complex problems. Creative, critical thinkers are essential for success in resolving some of our world’s most pressing issues. -I. Bloggett, local artist

“As educators, we often talk about the positive impact that the arts have on our lives and in particular, the lives of students. As a community, we know this and yet, in many cases art programs are the first to suffer budget cuts. Nevertheless, teachers, parents and students consistently manage to incorporate art in their daily work. Color shows up on school reports and pictures are added to homework assignments. Kids role play ideas during recess, songs are sung on long car rides and anyone that has ever talked to a teenager knows there are always some dance moves included in their conversation to emphasize whatever point they are trying to make. We use art to connect with each other and build communities. Students exposed to the arts engage with the world around them and with other people. The arts help develop key behaviors that support us throughout our life journey. Perseverance, exploration, learning from mistakes, observation, empathy, patience, curiosity, imagination, physical and mental strength are just a few character traits learned by doing and experiencing art. “However, exposure to the arts must be consistent and deliberate. The Strategic Arts plan that the County Office has embarked upon is crucial to delivering quality, equitable access to the arts in Nevada County. Children and families will be able to participate in diverse arts activities that will not only enhance their understanding of the arts as a discrete subject, but also deliver other academic content with in-depth comprehension. This program will create an enriched environment in which our kids can grow as engaged participants in our community and the world.” -A.Conte, Arts Educator

“I remember as a student, the pleasure of getting the ‘right answer’ on a math homework assignment or on a history test. What became clear to me as an adult/ teacher/school administrator, however, was that life and work rarely presented the same opportunity for the algorithmic right answer of an academic test. Rather, real life presented an open-ended problem or multi-dimensional goal, with the possibility of multiple right answers, each with their own set of positive and negative outcomes. This is exactly the kind of experience one gets in the arts – a blank sheet of paper or canvas, a multi-faceted goal, multiple possible right answers or strategies to achieve that goal, the multi-dimensional evaluation of progress in real time, and the constant presence of varying degrees of failure and success. When you think about it, the focused creative expression of arts education is the most authentic, realistic, efficient, productive, and complexity-infused practice for real-world success we could possibly provide students! Yet, it is fascinating to me that in our culture and throughout most of my career, the arts have taken a backseat when it comes to educational importance. Reading and math have been the top priority, with science and technology coming on strong over the past two decades. Yes, those absolutely are important subjects, but during that same time the arts haven’t been considered important enough even to assess. This is in spite of:  1) Knowing that student involvement with arts a) increases attendance, b) increases academic test scores, c) improves school climate and behavior, and d) increases community involvement with a school; and 2) Knowing that the active learning/creative expression characteristic of arts education is a research-based recommended strategy for meeting the needs of students who are entering schools with increasing social/emotional needs. “People ‘of a certain age’ can remember when California’s elementary students all had arts specialists and/or classroom teachers trained in arts education. Such hasn’t been the case for at least two generations of children, and overall academic achievement certainly hasn’t prospered during that time. I’m hopeful that this plan, the result of multiple stakeholders coming together to seek potential solutions to the challenge of best educating our citizens of the future, can help change what in my opinion have been the well-intentioned but wrong-headed policies and practices that have hindered the success of teachers and students in the recent past. This plan presents both our hopes and a road map for a better future!” -B.Buckley, Nevada County Arts Council

“We need to cover the full spectrum of learning in education. If you have creativity without rigor, you have chaos, even insanity. If you have rigor without creativity, it’s rigor mortis. We need both creativity and rigor to make all this work.” –Jerry Brown, former California Governor