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Music, Arts Programs At LA Schools Increasing After Years Of Decline

Mike Lawson • News • March 22, 2016

Theater Teacher Michael Jones When new theater teacher Michael Jones called his first actors up onstage, petrified students bolted from the high school drama room.

Now eight months after Sun Valley High hired its first drama teacher in years, students boldly stand up for theater improv, act out self-penned monologues and are poised to stage two full-length productions.

“You should be working, you should be writing,” barked Jones to two dozen drama students tasked with riffing out thank-yous during an imagined acceptance speech. “Imagine you are onstage and you’ve just received your Oscar, Grammy or sports award. Who would you thank?

“You should always remember to thank your fans, because they got you there. And they can make you or break you.”

After years of decline, music and arts programs across Los Angeles are finding new wind in their trumpets, paints on their palettes and new confidence upon the theater stage.

The first pledge by Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Michelle King, appointed earlier this year, was to restore luster to once-bedraggled creative arts. Now the district is spending millions more to teach creative subjects, with next year’s music and arts budget the highest in a dozen years.

This fall, the district’s Arts Education Branch gets another $8 million, which means more funding for orchestras, marching bands, the visual arts, graphic arts and theater courses than any year since 2004.

The $34.5 million to be spent on Los Angeles arts and music next year is $2 million more than peak spending on arts education in the year leading into the Great Recession.

That will allow the hiring of 78 more arts and music teachers, atop the nearly 100 hired this year, school officials say. It also will help restore the creative balance at schools such as Sun Valley High, which last year had two art and computer tech teachers but no theater or music teacher for its nearly 500 northeast San Fernando Valley students.

An LAUSD study of district schools a few years ago found such campuses in working-class neighborhoods often lacked enough arts teachers to fulfill graduation requirements. That is changing, school officials say.

Because of the Arts Equity Index study, the school was granted a new theater teacher and double its budget for art supplies.

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