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Jason Rapp

Arts classrooms included in AccelerateED draft guidelines

Public input sought until June 19


South Carolina Education Superintendent Molly Spearman convened the first meeting of AccelerateED, the Department of Education’s task force on school operations in April in the wake of COVID-19.

The task force was charged with developing guidelines on reopening schools across the state next school year. Today (June 15), the task force released its draft report and opened it up for public comment through June 19. The arts, including arts classrooms specifically, were included in these recommendations. SCAC partners the South Carolina Arts Alliance and the ABC Project, along with the S.C. Music Educators Association, were invited to provide input on how districts should continue providing access to a well-rounded education, especially in the arts, in the wake of COVID-19 next school year. AccelerateED is taking public comment on these recommendations until Friday, June 19. Click here to see how to send in your endorsement or your own recommendations.

Arts education leader Christine Fisher announces retirement

Fisher led Arts in Basic Curriculum Project for 18 years


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 13 March 2019 [caption id="attachment_39351" align="alignright" width="225"]Christine Fisher Christine Fisher[/caption] COLUMBIA, S.C. – Christine Fisher is to retire from the Arts in Basic Curriculum (ABC) Project this month after spending nearly 20 years working to provide comprehensive arts programs in schools across the state. Fisher, who lives in Florence, began her career in arts education in the classroom, teaching chorus, guitar and musical production at Dillon High School and then elementary general music, beginning band and middle school band in Florence School District One through 2001. She left that year to become executive director of the ABC Project, a partnership among the S.C. Arts Commission, Winthrop University, and S.C. Department of Education that works with schools and districts across the state to maintain and expand arts opportunities for all students. It is based at Winthrop in Rock Hill. Under Fisher’s leadership, the program grew to serve 84 schools or districts and 171,000 students this school year and played an important role in making sure the arts were included in the landmark Profile of the South Carolina Graduate in 2015, a rigorous set of standards for college and career readiness adopted by the state General Assembly in 2016. “Christine Fisher has spent her entire career being a tireless advocate and supporter of arts based education in South Carolina. I am so appreciative of Christine’s leadership from being the only music teacher to be named our state teacher of the year to her service as the director of the Arts in Basic Curriculum Project where she has brought access to the arts to students across our state and shared her tremendous wealth of knowledge with countless educators. I along with South Carolina’s arts community will miss her dearly,” S.C. Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman said. Many highlights dot the timeline of Fisher’s career. She was twice selected as a school and district Teacher of the Year, and twice selected as one of the five South Carolina honor roll teachers. Selected as the South Carolina Teacher of the Year in 1998, she is the only music teacher to hold the honor in the program's history. The S.C. Arts Commission awarded her state’s highest arts award, the Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Governor’s Award for the Arts, in 2006, and she received the Winthrop University Medal of Arts in 2012. “She has changed many thousands of young lives for the better. They, and we, owe her heartfelt thanks and praise for her life of unselfish, tireless devotion to arts education for everyone. We wish her nothing but the best in her retirement—and more time for music-making,” S.C. Arts Commission Executive Director Ken May said.

Full Statements on Christine Fisher's retirement

MOLLY SPEARMAN S.C. Superintendent of Education

“Christine Fisher has spent her entire career being a tireless advocate and supporter of arts based education in South Carolina. I am so appreciative of Christine’s leadership from being the only music teacher to be named our state teacher of the year to her service as the director of the Arts in Basic Curriculum Project where she has brought access to the arts to students across our state and shared her tremendous wealth of knowledge with countless educators. I along with South Carolina’s arts community will miss her dearly.”

KEN MAY Executive Director, S.C. Arts Commission

“The first time I ever heard Christine Fisher speak, she told the moving and powerful story of how the arts, specifically music, saved her life. As I reflect now on her retirement, I realize that all of her work, her entire amazing career, has been about paying forward—at increasing orders of magnitude—the wonderful, transformative gift that she was given. From her early days teaching in Dillon and Florence, to her ground-breaking tenure as State Teacher of the Year, to her long, outstanding service as Executive Director of the Arts in Basic Curriculum Project, she has changed many thousands of young lives for the better. They, and we, owe her heartfelt thanks and praise for her life of unselfish, tireless devotion to arts education for everyone. We wish her nothing but the best in her retirement—and more time for music-making!”

JEFF BELLANTONI Dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts, Winthrop University

“Christine has been an integral part of the arts community at Winthrop University for 18 years. We had the pleasure of recognizing the impact she has made in 2012 when she was awarded our Medal of Honor in the Arts. Her passion and commitment to integrating the arts into education throughout the state is unmatched. Christine’s steadfast support of the arts is evident through her many years of service as an educator and arts advocate, and she will be missed.”


About the South Carolina Arts Commission

With a commitment to excellence across the spectrum of our state’s cultures and forms of expression, the South Carolina Arts Commission pursues its public charge to develop a thriving arts environment, which is essential to quality of life, education, and economic vitality for all South Carolinians. Created by the South Carolina General Assembly in 1967, the Arts Commission works to increase public participation in the arts by providing services, grants, and leadership initiatives in three areas:
  • arts education,
  • community arts development,
  • and artist development.
Headquartered in Columbia, S.C., the Arts Commission is funded by the state of South Carolina, by the federal government through the National Endowment for the Arts and other sources. For more information, visit SouthCarolinaArts.com or call 803.734.8696.

Laurens County Visual Arts Coordinator finalist for Teacher of the Year

From GoLaurens.com
Marcia WombleState Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman surprised Gray Court-Owings teacher, Marcia Womble, in her classroom with news that she has been selected as one of five finalists for the South Carolina Teacher of the Year award.
"Marcia is the proud product of Laurens County public schools and is truly devoted to ensuring that her students receive a well-rounded arts infused education," said Superintendent Spearman. "I am so proud of her devotion to arts education and look forward to her continued leadership." Marcia Womble is a Visual Arts teacher at Gray Court-Owings Elementary and Middle School in Laurens County School District 55. She also serves as the District Visual Arts Coordinator. Drawn to teaching at a young age, Womble has opened doors for her students by obtaining several grants to purchase new art media, tools, and sponsorship for her annual Arts Day. During Arts Day, each class visits with different artists, musicians, dancers, authors, and actors. She believes in the power of positivity and starts each class by getting her students to “tell her something good.” ”Marcia Womble is a great example of what today's students need; a great teacher who understands the importance of how to capture, inspire, and teach all of her students in ways that they receive the greatest benefit. She exemplifies the qualities parents desire, principals expect and colleagues emulate. As superintendent of schools in Laurens County 55, I am grateful to be her leader and enjoy working with her to advance the important work assigned to us. Mrs. Womble is one of the best teachers I've had the opportunity to work with in my 37 years in public education,” said Laurens County School District 55 superintendent Dr. Stephen Peters. As one of five finalists, Womble will receive $10,000 and go on to the next stage of competition which involves an in-person interview with a team of expert judges. The South Carolina Teacher of the Year Gala will be held May 3 in Columbia.  The overall winner receives a total of $25,000 and gets to drive a new BMW for one year while advocating for the teaching profession across the state. View photos from Spearman's visit.

Advocates say arts education crucial for fixing schools

From The Greenville News: Story by Paul Hyde Photo by Bart Boatwright

An additional $1 million in funding for the South Carolina Arts Commission could help fix South Carolina’s broken public school system, arts advocates say. The Arts Commission is asking state lawmakers for the money to provide more grants for school programs in music, dance, theater and the visual arts, particularly those in the state’s poor, rural school districts. Arts advocates see the request as part of a legislative fix to a November state Supreme Court order to correct inequities that deny educational opportunity to students in the state’s poorer schools. “We think the arts can be part of the solution,” said Betty Plumb, executive director of the South Carolina Arts Alliance. Research has shown that arts education provides direct and indirect benefits for students, motivating them to work harder and stay in school, and teaching them about teamwork, leadership and creative problem-solving, among other values. The arts also enhance other academic subjects, said Bradley Wingate, the Greenville school district’s academic specialist for visual and performing arts. “A teacher may incorporate visual art into history,” Wingate said. “Research shows that students who learn materials through those different modes tend to retain the information longer and are more able to apply it when it’s taken out of context.” Currently, the Arts Commission spends $800,000 annually on arts-education grants. “We think that figure needs to be a lot larger,” said Ken May, executive director of the South Carolina Arts Commission. “We have high demand for the funding we already provide. We’re focused on trying to make sure all students have access to the arts in the school day.” Most arts education classes are funded through local school district revenues. Some poor school districts cannot afford arts education, however, so Arts Commission grants help those districts initiate programs. “Our state unfortunately has a high rate of poor kids in schools,” Plumb said. “The new money would help to level the playing field for children who live in high-poverty schools districts. It’s bridging the poverty gap. “It’s a modest amount when you think about all it can do,” Plumb said. New wave of support It’s uncertain whether the Legislature will embrace the Arts Commission’s $1 million request, but the state agency has an important ally in new Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman, a former music teacher. “I am fully committed to advancing opportunities for all students in South Carolina to participate in arts-related programs,” Spearman said via email. Spearman said she wants the state to be a national leader in arts education. “As a former music teacher for over 18 years, I have a deep appreciation for arts education,” Spearman said. “I want South Carolina to be seen as a national leader in STEAM education — science, technology, engineering, arts, and math — and we can get there by continuing our partnerships with the business community, technical colleges and institutions of higher education across the state.” Spearman served for serveral years in the past as the chair of the Arts in Basic Curriculum steering committee, which oversees one of the Arts Commission’s primary arts education programs. “It’s great to have such a strong advocate for arts education in the position of superintendent,” May said. “It’s really exciting.” Sen. Vincent Sheheen, a Camden Democrat, said prospects for the Arts Commission’s proposal look good this year. “I think this is a great opportunity to get more arts education funding into our schools,” said Sheheen, who is co-chair of the Senate Arts Caucus, a group of lawmakers who advocate for the arts. “The Arts Commission budget has been shrinking or static for many years. The time is right for an increase.” However, State Rep. Rita Allison, a Lyman Republican who is co-chair of the House Arts Caucus, was skeptical that more money could be found for arts education at a time when other priorities are looming large and Gov. Nikki Haley is calling for big cuts in state spending. “There’s not a lot of new money available,” Allison said. “The Arts Commission has been pretty level for quite some time. Whether the Arts Commission’s proposal has a chance with everything else on the table — roads and infrastructure, base student cost — that’s still a question mark.” Gov. Haley’s budget did not include the additional $1 million for arts education grants, although she supported current Arts Commission funding, urging that current money be used for arts education. Haley declined to comment further. “She did not endorse any new funding, so we’d have to cannibalize existing programs for arts education and that’s not desirable or popular with the rest of our constituency,” May said. In addition to arts education, the Arts Commission provides modest grants to arts organizations across the state, including more than a dozen in Greenville. Plumb said many state lawmakers, however, appear to be willing to provide more money for arts education. “We’ve got a lot of support from a lot of legislators,” Plumb said. “We really are saying that we want to raise the education level for the total child. There’s just no reason for another generation of students to not get the quality education they deserve.” Enhancing local programs The $1 million could be used especially to expand or help create arts programs in poor districts, May said. Arts Commission funding, however, would not be limited to high-poverty districts. Grants through one program — the Arts in the Basic Curriculum (or ABC) initiative — are usually modest: a maximum of $7,500, May said. “The money we provide to ABC sites is pretty unrestricted,” May said. “It can be used in any way that advances their curriculum.” Grants may be combined with local money to help a school afford a salary for a band or choral teacher, May said. Or a school might use a grant to introduce a new arts discipline, such as dance. Grants also might be used to bring an artist-in-resident to a school or fund a bus trip to a play, a museum or an orchestral concert. “Our money is often used as startup money for new elements of school’s curriculum,” May said. “The amount of bang we get out of the money we provide is just unbelievable.” For wealthier districts, such as Greenville County Schools, Arts Commission grants provide teachers with the freedom to offer creative initiatives. “It gives teachers the latitude to look at large-scale programs and activities that they probably wouldn’t be able to do with local funds,” said Wingate. “Local funds are earmarked for specific activities.” Monarch Elementary in Greenville County, for instance, was able to use Arts Commission funding to bring artists-in-residence to the school for music, dance and visual art, Wingate said. “They work with students and teachers, tailoring a program for whatever is best for the school,” Wingate said. Arts education inspires young people to stay in school, according to Shannon Kelly, director of advocacy at the National Association for Music Education. “Music has been correlated with higher attendance and graduation rates,” Kelly said. “It’s our position that arts education conveys many benefits to students and should be included as a core subject in all schools.” Arts education also encourages creative thinking, problem solving, leadership skills, personal confidence and collaborative skills, said Kelly, whose organization represents more than 100,000 current and former music educators. Kelly cited a recent University of Vermont study that found that music education in particular improves students’ cognitive ability, having a beneficial influence on auditory processing, inferential abilities and ability to focus. The Atlanta-based South Arts, a research organization, found that Arts Commission grants have helped to raise the quality of school arts programs statewide. “Schools that do have really robust arts programs are doing that with supplemental state funding,” May said. “The basic allotment that school districts provide schools for arts education is not sufficient to address all arts disciplines.” Image: Eastside senior Jill Edmonds works on a painting at the Greenville County Schools' Fine Arts Center

New S.C. education superintendent says the arts are a priority

From The Greenville News Story by Paul Hyde

Her predecessor tried to cut funding for arts education, but newly elected state Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman is offering a sharply contrasting message to arts supporters: "You've got my ear and my support." Spearman, a former state legislature who spent 18 years as a choral music teacher in public schools, is pledging to be a staunch advocate for arts education in South Carolina schools. "I hope my friends in the arts community realize that they've got a friend, someone who understands the importance of the arts as a state superintendent," Spearman said. Spearman said she's a strong supporter of two state arts-education programs that in the past have been targeted for elimination by some of her fellow Republicans, including outgoing state Superintendent Mick Zais and Gov. Nikki Haley. Spearman's election is being widely praised by advocates for arts education in the public schools. "I think it's great that the state's lead educator is someone who has an understanding that the arts are an integral part of all children's education, not just something extra they do between math and English," said Braxton Ballew, education director for the Greenville Symphony Orchestra. Ellen Westkaemper, who oversees education programs for the Greenville Art Museum, said Spearman's election is good news particularly for students in rural South Carolina schools who may have less exposure to the arts. "I was very happy when I saw her name on the ballot because I've known her for many years as a fantastic arts educator," Westkaemper said. "South Carolina has a lot of great things happening in the field of arts education and I think Molly is really going to be able to make sure things are equally distributed to all parts of the state, guaranteeing access in some of the rural and remote parts of the state." Spearman said she would support the state Department of Education's primary funding stream for the arts, the Arts Curricula Innovation Grants Program. Arts educators can use the grants in a variety of ways to enhance a school's arts programs, from professional development to designing an arts curriculum with consultants. "In 2013-14, 73 grants benefited 105,890 students throughout South Carolina," said Betty Plumb, executive director of the South Carolina Arts Alliance, an umbrella organization of arts groups in the state. Zais provoked the wrath of arts advocates by twice recommending that the $1.5 million program be eliminated. Attempts to reach Zais for comment were unsuccessful. Ensuring access Spearman said she's committed to making sure all South Carolina students have access to arts education, particularly in the state's poorer rural districts. "I've seen the disparities of school districts that exist side by side," Spearman said. In the 1980s as a choral teacher, Spearman moved from the well-funded Chapin Elementary School to the then-struggling Saluda High School. "I moved 18 miles and I went from having everything possible at my fingertips — a keyboard lab, a guitar lab, a beautiful auditorium — to working in an old portable with an upright piano," Spearman said. "I still understand those disparities and I'm going to be speaking up for those children across the state," she added. Spearman said a state arts education program, the Arts in Basic Curriculum project, dramatically transformed Saluda High School's arts curriculum for the better. "I wrote a grant and Saluda was one of the first sites in the Arts in Basic Curriculum project," she said. "Because of that support, we were able to bring in resources, buy instruments and bring in artists-in-residence. We totally changed the arts program in Saluda. I'm a huge supporter of the Arts in Basic Curriculum." The ABC program is funded by the South Carolina Arts Commission, an agency that Haley sought to eliminate three years in a row. Her vetoes, however, were overturned by the Legislature. This year, Haley chose not to veto funding for the agency. "In South Carolina, the arts are under constant scrutiny, and in recent years, our state arts commission has come very close to extinction," said Alan Ethridge, executive director of Greenville's Metropolitan Arts Council. "Ms. Spearman will be an excellent advocate for arts education and ultimately the arts throughout the state." Plumb said the ABC program funds initiatives to enhance arts programs already in existence in a school. "It might be paying for a dance or theater teacher for a year if a district's finances can't cover those things," Plumb said. "It might be for other programs or to implement a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) project." Lifelong commitment Spearman's involvement with the arts extends back to her childhood. She began playing piano and organ at her small country church when she was 12 years old. She and her family still attend the same church today, and she continues to serve as the music director and organist. Spearman majored in music education at Lander College (now University) and was elected student body president. She later earned a master of education supervision from George Washington University and an education specialist degree from the University of South Carolina. Her first teaching job was as a choral teacher at Gilbert High School in Lexington School District 1. She taught for a few years in Maryland before returning with her family to South Carolina. Spearman continued to teach choral music before becoming a principal. In 1993, Spearman was elected to the S.C. House of Representatives, serving four terms. In 1998, Spearman was appointed deputy superintendent of education for governmental relations at the state Department of Education. For the past nine years, Spearman has led the South Carolina Association of School Administrators. "I'm excited about having a former arts educator with such a range of experience as our superintendent of education," said Anne Tromsness, director of education for the Warehouse Theatre. Spearman said the arts enhance — rather than detract from — a school's other academic subjects. "I know the importance of the arts," Spearman said. "It's not just about teaching an appreciation of the beautiful things in this world. It's part of the basic curriculum. You can learn math and science and teach all of the curriculum through the arts. I understand and appreciate that and I'm going to be pushing that." The arts also play a crucial role in keeping students interested in school and from dropping out, Spearman said. "We're going to be pushing the idea that the way to increase the graduation rate is to engage them while they're in school, and the arts do that for most every student," Spearman said. An emphasis nationwide on standardized testing has negatively impacted the arts, but that may be changing, Spearman said. "South Carolina used to be a leader in arts education and we still have some very strong programs, but it's true that, because of high-stakes testing, a lot of the funding for arts has been reduced in all states," Spearman said. "But I see that pendulum swinging back. I think people have realized that was a mistake. If we're going to teach the whole child and individualize and engage students in their learning, there's no content area for that better than the arts."
Image: Arts in the Basic Curriculum presentation, South Florence High School (2013)