Turnaround Arts: California welcomes four new schools to our statewide network!

Following an in-depth search and selection process*, we are thrilled to welcome Finney Elementary in Chula Vista, Arts in Action Elementary and Middle Schools in Los Angeles, and Echo Valley Elementary in Salinas to our network of 24 schools, extending our reach to 1,600 additional students and teachers across California. 

As we begin a new school year, we reaffirm our commitment to ensuring that all students, no matter their zip code or background, have access to a high-quality and rigorous education that includes the arts. Our new partner schools share this vision and understand the power and potential the arts hold to create joyful, inclusive, and engaging learning environments for all students. 

Turnaround Arts: California will work closely with these schools in the coming years to help them develop a comprehensive approach to using the arts across all facets of the school environment to benefit students, teachers, and families.

Meet our new partner schools:

Finney Elementary, Chula Vista
Finney Elementary is a K-6 grade school that serves 385 students. 84% of students receive free/reduced-price lunch, and 29% are English language learners. Finney’s team believes that the arts will engage their students, spark curiosity, and make them excited to be at school.

Principal Dr. Beverly Prange shares, “We are excited to expose Finney students to more of the arts and expand arts integration at our school. We know the arts help students develop collaboration, confidence, and creativity and can positively impact school engagement. Our students have faced a number of challenges as a result of the pandemic. We believe that investing in this partnership with Turnaround Arts will help us better address student needs.”

Arts in Action Elementary and Middle Schools, Los Angeles
Arts in Action Elementary serves 377 students in grades TK-5, while their middle school serves 248 students in grades 6-8. 95% of students receive free/reduced-price lunch, and 34% are English language learners.

Arts in Action Elementary believes the arts are how their students can connect to the world around them – to communicate across languages, engage in activism, and express themselves. They look forward to building collaboration among their teaching staff and offering more professional development opportunities in arts-based teaching strategies.

Arts in Action Middle School’s focus on social justice means they envision creating a learning environment where all students have the opportunity to explore various art forms and see themselves and their backgrounds reflected and celebrated daily. They see the arts as a way to serve the whole child and are excited to create more opportunities for their teachers to build their skills in leading for change in and through the arts.

Executive Director Kalin Balcomb shares, “We have found that the arts are incredibly important in meeting the needs of all learners. Art provides the forum for equity and access and can be harder to sustain and fund in low-income schools. The arts are an amazing tool for students to express themselves and understand the world around them. We look forward to expanding our art program and our capacity to reach all our students.”

Echo Valley Elementary, Salinas
Echo Valley Elementary is a K-6 grade school that serves 531 students. 100% of students receive free/reduced-price lunch, and 66% are English language learners. Echo Valley’s vision is to become the arts school in their community. Families are eager to become more involved, and the teachers and principal believe the arts will offer a greater access point into the school community. They are excited to expose their teachers to more art forms to use in their classrooms.

Principal Jacob Gile shares, “Our students are resilient, hard-working, creative, and kind. They have a passion for learning and thrive whenever we provide enrichment through the arts. We are excited to serve our students through the equitable, engaging, and student-centered learning offered and supported by Turnaround Arts.”

Now, what does our first year of work with these schools look like?

Turnaround Arts: California commits to working with each partner school for at least four years to ensure the long-term sustainability and impact of the arts across all facets of the school environment – including teacher collaboration, student learning, family engagement, and school culture and climate.

Our first year of partnership with these schools focuses on two parallel approaches: 1) team building and arts goal setting at each school site, and 2) engagement with our statewide network of schools and arts partners to exchange and amplify learnings built over the years. We focus on four primary areas:

  • Mapping the rich cultural and family assets in each school community that can be leveraged to support student success.
  • Building a team of teachers at each school who will, with the principal, create annual arts goals and act as the arts champions in the broader school community.
  • Teaching new strategies to infuse the arts into classrooms to build engagement, learning, and community.
  • Creating a multi-year plan to identify and roll out key strategies for targeted use of the arts across the school environment.

We are grateful to these schools and their teachers for choosing to invest deeply in their students through the arts, and we look forward to sharing more about their journeys in the coming year!

*Schools eligible for partnership include public elementary and middle schools where at least 75% of the student population qualifies for free or reduced-price lunch. We also prioritize schools that serve a majority students of color, English Language Learners, and schools identified by California for “comprehensive support and improvement.”

Watch: Community Arts Projects

Turnaround Arts: California launched our Community Arts Project initiative to support community-building and well-being as schools returned to in-person instruction following the pandemic. Partner schools, including teachers, students, and families, were paired with local artists and arts organizations to conceptualize and implement unique art installations on their campuses.

We thank the partnering schools, artists, and arts organizations who made these projects possible!

Partner Schools:
Ellen Ochoa Learning Center, Cudahy
Garfield Elementary, Alhambra
Hoopa Valley Elementary, Hoopa
Janie P. Abbott Elementary, Lynwood
John J. Montgomery Elementary, Chula Vista
Willard Intermediate School, Santa Ana
Zamboni Middle School, Paramount

Partner Artists & Arts Organizations:
ArtReach San Diego and Liesel Plambeck, Artist
Budding Artists, and Bryan Arellano and Glenna Avila, Artists
Dionisio Ceballos, Artist
Liliflor, Artist
Naishian Rainflower Richards, Artist

The 2022/23 School Year By the Numbers

The 2022/23 school year was full of creativity, connection, and joy as we were finally back in person with our partner schools full-time!

It also had its challenges. Our partner schools, teachers, students, and families continue to deal with the lasting impacts of the pandemic. Turnaround Arts: California is so grateful to our partnering schools, arts organizations, funders, and YOU, for investing deeply in students and families through the arts – supporting engagement, community-building, and healing.

Here’s what our community made possible at public elementary and middle schools across California over the past year…

The impacts we are seeing…

“Students were happy to share about the different works they saw and created. They talked about painting, crafting, and the artists that visited the campus with such excitement! These positive experiences motivated them to be risk-takers and try new things in my class. It facilitated conversations between peers.”

– Special Education Teacher, Martin Luther King, Jr. School of the Arts

“Turnaround Arts has allowed me to see the arts as a tool in my classroom rather than this scary thing that was too big to try and tackle. Having the arts as part of my class has made my teaching more inclusive, and exciting for both me and my students, and has helped engage my students in ways they weren’t before.”

– Teacher, Martin Luther King, Jr. School of the Arts

“The arts serve as a catalyst as we continually work (following COVID) to rebuild relationships and connections with students and the community.”

-Teacher, Zamboni Middle School

“We had some very traumatic events occur in our community. Using the arts as a calming strategy, as well as a processing strategy, has been wonderful. Our students also got to experience drama, visual arts, and music this year. They really understand that we can express ourselves artistically in many different ways.”

-Teacher, Garfield Elementary

Celebrating Indigenous Cultures Through the Arts: A special project at Hoopa Valley Elementary

We are proud to share our recently completed Community Arts Project at Turnaround Arts: California’s longtime partner school, Hoopa Valley Elementary!

Hoopa Valley Elementary is located in Humboldt County in Northern California. Students are 90% Indigenous Americans and members of the Hupa, Yurok, and Karuk tribes.

The community has strong traditions rooted in Indigenous American cultures that they wanted to honor and celebrate through a public art project. Students worked with local artist and cultural bearer, Naishian Rainflower Richards, to create a unique art installation, that runs along the school’s fence. Entitled “Na:yk’idilyeh,” which means “necklace” in the Hupa language, the piece is inspired by the traditional necklaces created and worn by tribal members. This large-scale “necklace” showcases oversized wooden, painted replicas of the community’s invaluable dentalium used to make their necklaces.

Naishian worked with the high school woodshop students and their teacher, Mr. Johnson, to create the necklace pieces, and the elementary school students painted them in traditional patterns. Naishian shared: “This project represents our wealth in culture. Dentalium was the currency in our local tribes, and this is a reminder to those in the school that we still have this wealth.”

We send a very special thank you to Ms. Stephanie Silvia, Arts Integration Teacher, who oversaw this project and has been a tireless advocate for the arts at Hoopa Valley Elementary.

About Naishian Rainflower Richards: Naishian Rainflower Richards is a member of the Western Shoshone tribe and a descendant of the Northern California tribes of the Hupa, Yurok, and Redwood Creek. She shares indigenous arts in the Hoopa community, previously serving as a Cultural Consultant for the Indian Education Program at Hoopa Valley Elementary. Naishian has also served as a youth and college mentor with Two Feathers Native American Family Services, teaching about local ceremonial grounds, food sovereignty, and revitalizing coming-of-age ceremonies. Through this work, she has come to understand the gap in access to these teachings. She shares that she is proud to see “students creating our local history and learning how to stand tall in this world.”

As highlighted in this NPR report, the arts have been a powerful tool to build safety and self-expression for young people amid an unprecedented mental health crisis. Turnaround Arts: California launched our Community Arts Project initiative in 2021 to support arts projects like the one at Hoopa, to create space for healing and connection since schools have returned to in-person instruction. We’ve been pairing local artists with teachers, students, and families to design and implement unique art installations on their school campuses ever since.

Annual Arts Leadership Team Lead Retreat

In March 2023 we were back in person bringing together teacher leaders from our 22 partner schools across California for hands-on arts learning, leadership development, and peer exchange at beautiful Loyola Marymount University.

This retreat supports teachers to further develop in their roles as arts leaders at each of their schools. It provides an opportunity for them to connect with their peers around challenges and successes and exchange ideas and promising practices. Following are some photos from our time together.

After getting to know each other, our partners at Collaborations: Teachers and Artists (CoTA) led attendees through a collaborative arts integration project. Inspired by photograph, Boy with June Bug, by Gordon Parks, we created a collaborative poetry piece.

Participants then created their own personal interpretations of the poem inspire by Illuminated Manuscripts.

This workshop provided a tangible example of arts integration to our teachers – meeting learning goals in English Language Arts and visual arts simultaneously. The uniqueness of the creative process was beautifully captured by the diversity of the finished products.

On Day 2, attendees had the opportunity to engage in in-depth peer exchange around their experiences as they have implemented arts-based strategies at their schools.

We closed out the retreat with a reflection on key learnings and next steps.

“We Are All Connected” Mural Unveiling at Abbott Elementary


Turnaround Arts: California launched our Community Arts Project initiative in 2021 to support healing and community-building since schools have returned to in-person instruction. We’ve been pairing local artists with teachers, students, and families to design and implement unique art installations on their school campuses ever since

This mural at Janie P. Abbott Elementary in Lynwood is the result of a months-long collaborative project where students and local artist Lilia “Liliflor” Ramirez worked together to choose the themes that would be represented visually, from love for the environment to school pride. Within the butterfly’s wings is a tribute to the Gabrielino-Tongva Peoples indigenous to Los Angeles County, showing their houses, called “Kiiy,” as well as plants native to the area including the oak tree, the poppy, and white sage. The butterfly, representing transformation and growth, is set against space showing the vast interconnectedness of our lives.

Following are photo highlights from the creation, installation, and unveiling of this exciting project.

The process started with students creating their own sketches to share their ideas of what they’d like to see represented in the mural. Liliflor reviewed student ideas and identified common themes. She then created the overall design for the art piece.


The mural was created using a polytab technique in which the artist and students painted the entire image on parachute fabric prior to installing it on the wall.


The mural was unveiled in February 2023 with a celebration featuring students, teachers, Abbott’s Principal, the Lynwood Unified School District’s Superintendent, leadership team, and board, lead artist Liliflor, and the entire sixth-grade class.

Back Together In Person for Turnaround Arts: California’s Annual Principal Retreat

In February 2023, principals from our 22 partner schools across the state came together in Huntington Beach for two days of learning, connection, and arts planning. The retreat focused on the neurobiological science of mindfulness, as it relates to leading and learning. As our guest facilitator, Dr. Niki Elliott of the Mindful Leaders Project, shared: “Regulation of the adult is the necessary prerequisite for healthy co-regulation of a child’s nervous system, brain, and behavior.”

Principals were given tools and knowledge to develop greater self-awareness of brain function, nervous systems and physical reactions in a variety of settings, from calm to stressful. Dr. Elliott shared strategies for self regulation and regulation of others in meeting and classroom settings, to help them more mindfully navigate and lead through difficult conversations with teachers, students and parents.

“The retreat offered valuable information for moving forward with arts integration in an authentic and meaningful way. The mind, body, breath gets at the heart of what makes great instruction happen because it takes into consideration all learners, leaders, and the community.”
– Attendee, Principal Retreat

Following are photo highlights from our time together:

The retreat kicked off with a special performance from Zamboni Middle School’s Jazz Band in partnership with Jazz Angels.

The retreat began with teachers engaging in an art activity to reflect on challenges and successes across four key areas of their work through the arts: building collaboration and a shared vision among their teachers; developing teacher capacity to integrate the arts into the classroom; building a positive school culture and climate; and engaging families.

Dr. Niki Elliott taught attendees a series of breathing exercises to bring awareness to their bodies and practice self-regulation and mindfulness.

Dr. Elliott had principals work on developing and sharing energy profiles to understand what environmental conditions help them feel good and practice self-care.

Participants studied the structure of the brain and the sections that support our sense of safety, self-regulation, memory making, and more.

To reflect upon their retreat experience and intentions, principals engaged in a journaling and vision board collage workshop. The collage workshop invited principals to use metaphor, color, and imagery to create their vision boards. Their final collages serve as reminders of their retreat learnings and commitment to implementing mindful leadership practices on their school campuses.

“THANK YOU for this opportunity. I truly value what was presented, and I want to focus on being mindful to be a better leader.”
– Attendee, Principal Retreat

DJ IZ Avila returns to Monterey Peninsula schools


By Molly Gibbs, Monterey Herald
May 20, 2022

SEASIDE — Students’ lessons at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School of the Arts Thursday featured scratching and blending — DJ techniques taught by their “Turnaround Artist” mentor, IZ Avila.
Monterey Peninsula Unified School District — which was recently named one of the best communities for music education in the United States for the third year in a row — includes two Turnaround Arts schools: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School of the Arts in Seaside and Marina Vista Elementary Arts Academy. Both schools are supported by Turnaround Arts: California, a nonprofit organization aimed at using the arts to engage, empower and transform historically marginalized schools and communities.
Avila works with several Turnaround Arts schools across the country. His return to Seaside and Marina this week was met with cheers and applause from the students and marked his first visit to one of his “adopted” schools since before the pandemic.

“At one point, I didn’t think I’d get an opportunity to be back because we didn’t know where things were at,” Avila said. “Honestly it feels somewhat surreal.”’

Avila joined the Turnaround Arts program in 2016 when he adopted Standing Rock Middle School in North Dakota. He said witnessing firsthand the students’ loss of hope, excitement and imagination because of the things they had gone through changed his life.

“I really bonded with those kids and they opened up to me and trusted me,” he said. “That was an incredible process for me because once I saw how interested they were with music, I started cultivating them and helping them understand what DJing was.”

Avila witnessed that excitement for music again Thursday at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School of the Arts.
In DJ workshops, he taught the students what DJing means, how to use the soundboard and how to blend two pieces of music together cohesively, which he said is the most important part of DJing.
“Just because you can put everything on your computer doesn’t mean you should play it,” he advised the students. “As a DJ, the last thing you want to do is clear the dance floor.”

Read the full article on the Monterey Herald’s website

Call for Artists

Turnaround Arts: California seeks artists and/or community arts organizations to create collaborative, public art projects (e.g. murals and other installations) with elementary and middle schools across the state in the 2021-22 school year.

Participating schools are located in the following communities:

  • Hoopa Valley (Humboldt County)
  • Seaside (Monterey County)
  • May include: Watts, Compton, Cudahy, Lynwood, Paramount (Los Angeles County)
  • Santa Ana (Orange County)

Artists and/or Community Arts Partners will be selected on the basis of their qualifications, as demonstrated by:

  • Quality of their past projects and proposal documents
  • Experience working effectively in collaboration with young people, education-based organizations or schools.
  • Connection, and commitment to, centering and uplifting Black and Brown communities through artistic engagement

Turnaround Arts: California is committed to investing in the communities our schools are located. Organizations and artists that identify as BIPOC and/or come from the same communities as the schools are particularly encouraged to apply.

Please see this document for the submission process, timeline and compensation and other details. Submissions due Friday, November 15.

3 New Schools Join our Statewide Network

Turnaround Arts: California is thrilled to add three partner schools to our statewide network of 26 schools, leveraging the arts to support whole-school transformation. Please join us in welcoming Westlake Middle in Oakland, Los Cerritos Elementary in Paramount, and Washington Elementary in Lynwood!

The arts are being called upon to boost student engagement while supporting the wellbeing of students, teachers and families who have been dealing with significant challenges over the past year. The multi-year Turnaround Arts program provides teachers and principals with individualized coaching and training to help them build and implement a school-wide vision for the arts. This includes support and training to help teachers integrate the arts into core academic subjects, as well as arts resources, funding, and project planning support to help schools partner with community-based arts organizations for projects that engage the broader school community. As part of the partnership, school districts also commit to ensuring that every student receives 45 minutes of standalone arts instruction weekly.

“We look forward to working with these three new schools. It is now more important than ever to provide culturally responsive arts experiences in which students feel seen and honored. Arts Education empowers students, teachers and principals – it is foundational to learning and enables personalized instruction and promotes social and emotional wellness.” – Malissa Shriver, Turnaround Arts: CA Co-founder

Meet Our New Partner Schools:

Westlake Middle School – Oakland
A 6th – 8th grade school, Westlake serves 313 students with 100% qualifying for free or reduced price lunch. According to Principal Maya Taylor, “Westlake is a diverse school community and the arts provide a perfect way to make learning visible and accessible for all while supporting our most vulnerable students in expressing themselves and finding their voice. In partnership with Turnaround Arts: California, we hope to strengthen relationships between students and teachers, engage families in student learning, and build student pride in their school community.”

Los Cerritos Elementary School – Paramount
A Pre-K – 5th grade school, Los Cerritos serves 486 students with 90% qualifying for free or reduced price lunch. Principal Hilda Mapp shares, “This past year has been challenging for our students and teachers. We are thrilled to partner with Turnaround Arts: California to strategically use the arts to provide a sense of structure and safety, promote wellness, and build collaboration between students and teachers.”


Washington Elementary School – Lynwood

A Pre-K – 6th grade school, Washington Elementary serves 621 students with 100% qualifying for free or reduced price lunch. Principal Sandra Verduzco shares, “We believe that the arts will create many opportunities for our students and provide them with an education that teaches them how to work collaboratively, builds their confidence, and stimulates their creativity and uniqueness. Our school team looks forward to working in partnership with Turnaround Arts to build high-value arts assets to strategically address our school’s biggest needs.”


Los Cerritos and Washington join a cohort of six Turnaround Arts: California (TACA) schools located in communities adjacent to the LA River. In partnership with Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, Gehry Partners, and local school districts, TACA is serving as an education component of the Los Angeles River Master Plan, a comprehensive vision to invest in the LA River and its surrounding communities.

“These are three things that can help strengthen our communities: Education is the fundamental building block of everything we want to create in California. Arts are an expression of where we come from and where we want to go. The LA River ties all of our communities together and the Master Plan gives us a way to make the river a recreational, cultural, environmental and economic asset for the people who live in those communities today. These schools joining with Turnaround Arts? I can’t think of a better way than that to exemplify those three goals.” – Anthony Rendon, Speaker of the CA State Assembly

“We look forward to welcoming these new schools, expanding young people’s access to the arts, and to developing their own distinctive voice. Currently, the LA River cuts through communities where the opportunity gap for these kids is large. We are trying to use our work along the river to not only to provide critical water and environmental relief to these cities, but to also enliven the arts and cultural assets that already exist in the region. Education is key and my hope is that expanding the Turnaround Arts network here will result in greater opportunity for more people in this very special part of LA County.” – Frank Gehry, Renowned Architect and Turnaround Arts: CA Co-founder