Q&A: NOLA Charter Leader on Using Arts to ‘Round Out Learning’

Mural at Batiste Cultural Arts Academy, New Orleans

Mural at Batiste Cultural Arts Academy, New Orleans

The Batiste Cultural Arts Academy in New Orleans, an ExpandED School in partnership with NOSACONN, recently became one of just eight schools in the nation to receive a competitive two-year Turnaround Arts Grant from the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. The committee says the grants are intended to “test the hypothesis that high-quality and integrated arts education can be an effective tool to strengthen school reform efforts, boosting academic achievement and increasing student motivation in schools facing some of the toughest educational challenges in the country.”

ReNEW Charter Schools LogoFewer than 15 percent of this school’s students were reading at grade level in the 2009-10 school year. In 2010 the school came under the leadership of the ReNEW Charter Management Organization. With the help of NOSACONN teaching artists and the backing of the legendary jazz family the Batistes, the school is now in the process of integrating comprehensive arts education into the expanded school day.

Kevin Guitterrez, president of the five-school ReNEW network, recently answered questions from TASC about how the school will apply the grant to the expanded day.

Q: Is arts education particularly important to parents in your community?

A: Especially in New Orleans, there is a desire for music to be part of kids’ opportunities and the curriculum. That’s a general aspiration for parents and kids. More than anything else, though, parents want to know their kids are going to good schools that will get them on grade level and help them pass state assessments so they’re not held back from year to year.

Arts education is something parents want, but what they want more than anything else is for their kids to be college ready and proficient.

Q: How does the expanded day, and your partnership with NOSACONN, help you integrate arts education?

A: As an organization, we had a vision from the beginning of doing an extended school day and year. We wanted to reimagine what that looks like especially for kids who have been under-served. First we need to extend time for kids’ basic literacy and numeracy needs, but Batiste has aspirations beyond that in the arts and humanities. Our work with NOSACONN has been about rounding out that learning.

We’re not going to be satisfied to get kids on grade level in literacy and numeracy. By making sure their learning experiences are rounded out, we want to push them way beyond that over time because it’s in our DNA to believe that every student can achieve at a high level.

Q: In addition to spending more time on the arts, how do you think students will experience the Turnaround Arts grant?

A: We’re going to have many opportunities for our staff to learn about best practices in arts education as we move to the common core. Our school leaders and curriculum captains will get the benefit of learning from the national experts in expanding the school day and teaching arts and humanities, for example by taking part in Aspen Institute training. We’ll learn how to lead this kind of change in the curriculum so we can sustain robust learning over time. Kids should immediately feel what teachers are bringing back in their vision for how more learning time can be spent well.