Arts Education in Rural Communities

Tulare County

Name of County: Tulare County Office of Education
Region: 7
County Superintendent: Tim A. Hire, Tulare Superintendent of Schools
Cohort Lead: Kate Stover, M.A., TCOE Arts Consultant and Region 7 Arts Co-Lead

Located in the southern portion of California’s San Joaquin Valley, the county sits squarely in the heart of the region known as the Central Valley.

Photos by Kate Stover, Tulare County Office of Education

About Tulare County

The vast farmlands and foothills of Tulare County stretch across 4,824 square miles, a land area roughly the size of Connecticut.

Incorporated in 1852, Tulare County is named for the native Tule reeds filling river and lake beds across the area. Located in the southern portion of California’s San Joaquin Valley, the county sits squarely in the heart of the region known as the Central Valley. State Highway 99 and the tracks of the Southern Pacific railroad weave through the countryside as cars, trucks, and trains make their way across the Golden State. Centered three and a half hours from the metropolitan areas of San Francisco to the north and Los Angeles to the south, Tulare County is also a two-and-a-half-hour drive from the sandy shores of California’s Central Coast.

Nearly half a million people live in Tulare County and over 103,000 of those residents attend school at one of the county’s 43 school districts. There are eight cities in the county: Dinuba, Exeter, Farmersville, Lindsay, Porterville, Tulare, Visalia, and Woodlake. The area is also home to over four dozen smaller, rural, unincorporated towns. One-third of Tulare County’s residents call these rural communities home and many of the towns still house neighborhood schools.

Of the area’s 43 school districts, 34 are considered small, with less than 2,500 students enrolled in each and in 30 of those small districts, enrollment is less than 1,000 students. In addition, 25 of the 43 districts are single school districts, containing only one school and serving students from Kindergarten through 8th grade. Moreover, due to their distance from larger cities, 25 of Tulare County’s districts are considered rural by the National Center for Educational Statistics.

Key Strategic Goals of the County Strategic Arts Plan

The Tulare County Office of Education led a strategic planning process to include key stakeholders from various sectors to envision key goals for strengthening and expanding arts education in Tulare County which resulted in strategic plan. The Tulare County Arts Master Plan (AMP) is a strategic roadmap detailing the expansion of arts and cultural programs in the county’s schools. The AMP is aligned with the goals of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and the eight state priorities in California’s Local 

Control Funding Formula (LCFF). To advance arts education in Tulare County, the AMP focuses on two foundational cornerstones – Arts as Core and Arts for All – and four strategic directions:

  1. Educational Equity for All
  2. Social and Emotional Well-Being
  3. College, Career, and Civic Life Readiness
  4. Sustainable Systemic Change.

The strategic plan identifies goals and outcomes for planning, implementing, and sustaining high-quality arts learning experiences, both inside and outside of school. The AMP aligns the programs and departments operating within TCOE to the larger vision of arts education for all. The plan represents a commitment from the County Office to supporting high-quality standards-based arts education for years to come. The Arts Master Plan also defines a clear multi-year path to ensuring equitable access to the arts for all students, families, and communities in Tulare County.

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

Implementation Goals:

  • Build awareness for, and competency in, the new California Arts Standards through ongoing professional learning, coaching, and technical assistance for districts, schools, educators, and administrators (AMP Goal 2.1)
  • Host a CAS-based arts integration workshop for educators (AMP Goal 2.1)
  • Align arts programming to the new California Health Education Framework (2019), and California’s Social Emotional Learning Guidelines (2018), demonstrating solid connections between the artistic processes, health education, and SEL (AMP Goal 3.1)
  • Reflect the diversity of California, by identifying and mentoring emerging arts education leaders, (including specialist teachers and teaching artists), especially those from varied gender, racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds (AMP Goal 6.1)
  • Provide culturally responsive and inclusive learning opportunities by honoring culture, diversity, language, and traditions in and through the arts (AMP Goal 3.2)
  • Reduce stigmas, stereotypes, and discrimination by utilizing the arts to promote awareness and acceptance of sensitive topics such as: mental health, substance abuse, and cultural diversity (AMP Goal 3.1)
  • Foster public and private partnerships to build community awareness and support for the advancement of arts education across Tulare County (AMP Goal 8.2)
  • Collect and disseminate both quantitative and qualitative data to demonstrate the arts’ impact on the whole child, whole family, and whole community (AMP Goal 8.3)

Highlighted Accomplishments

Implementation of AMP Goals 8.1 and 8.2

  • Tulare County Board of Education adoption of The Declaration of the Rights of All Students to Equity in Arts Learning – September 11, 2019
  • Formal Launch of CreateTC – Tulare County Arts Coalition – This cross-sector alliance serves to promote equitable access to the arts for the students, families, and communities of Tulare County. – October 3, 2019

Multiple Capacity-Building Professional Learning Opportunities

  • Arts Integration Training
  • California Arts Standards Training
  • California Arts Framework Overview
  • Visual Arts and Media Arts Professional Learning Communities
  • Arts + SEL Workshops for TCOE Prevention staff and district MTSS teams

Student Art Contests in Partnership with Health and Human Services Agency

  • Healthy Tulare County Week
  • Census 2020

Development of CCSESA Creativity at the Core Module 21: Creativity and Collaboration in Rural Communities.

Greatest Advances

The Arts Master 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 AMP enable work beyond the classroom and into the community.

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

The lessons learned through the implementation of the Arts Master Plan (AMP) have been plentiful! One of the biggest lesson has been that “Everyone has a story.” One of the most rigorous parts of the strategic planning process actually comes once the grant is complete. The task now is to build public will, to fine tune the “elevator pitch,” and to get people excited about the work. The beauty of the arts is that they are truly universal, and everyone has a story about how the arts have impacted their life (or the life of someone they love). As we have connected with stakeholders, tapping into those stories and finding the connections has been very powerful and deeply rewarding.

In the course of conversations about the AMP, there are two common themes which emerge – people often love to talk about their own positive experiences of playing an instrument, singing in choir, or painting and then they reflect on the experiences of the youth in their lives and the lack of opportunities for those children. They often want to know “what happened?” or when, why, and how did the arts go away. The conversations frequently sway toward the health and wellness aspects and impact of the arts, as people often tell stories of the arts helping them to feel better, to heal, to calm down, or to feel at peace. A few minutes of conversation and a small chat about a personal experience of the arts is often all it takes for a non-traditional stakeholder to agree that arts really are an invaluable and critical component of a well-rounded education for every student. As we like to say, “The arts heal. The arts save. The arts matter.”

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

The Arts Master Plan is a reflection of the people, places, and passions that exist in Tulare County. Wrapping arts education into a holistic approach to teaching and learning, the AMP provides a roadmap for impact across multiple sectors and facets of the county, with the overarching goal to change the lives of the students, families, and communities of Tulare County through arts education.

Kate Stover and Peggy Burt

Comments from Tulare County Representatives

The arts disciplines of dance, media arts, music, theatre, visual arts, and literary arts provide students with the foundational skills employers seek. They teach collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking – skills that are applicable in healthcare, business, government, agriculture, and every workforce sector in between. The arts are a key component to a well-rounded education.
– Tim A. Hire, Tulare County Superintendent of Schools

The arts are the glue that hold many of us together.
– Kate Stover

The arts showed me, not only that I have a voice, but that my voice deserves to be heard.
– Student

For many of our students, the arts are THE reason that they come to school. The arts provide a safe place to dream, to explore, to wonder, and to belong.
– Teacher

Arts budgets are often the first thing that many schools cut and yet we wonder why our students aren’t being creative.
– District Administrator