Teacher Retreat: Fostering Collaboration to Build Arts-Centered and Equitable Schools

“It is a great experience to share and reflect with fellow supporters of the arts. The professional development is inspiring, and you walk away with a wealth of strategies. It motivates us to be advocates for the arts.”
– Attending Teacher

Turnaround Arts: California’s annual Arts Leadership Team Lead Retreat brings teacher leaders from our 24 partner schools across the state together for two days of immersive arts learning and peer sharing. This annual retreat is aimed at building teacher leadership and fostering a collaborative approach to strengthening our public schools through the arts. Following are highlights from our time together.

Our wonderful hosts at Nickelodeon helped us kick off the retreat with a tour of their studios and a drawing activity with one of their animators. An attending teacher shared, “Drawing with Nickelodeon was an awesome experience, especially since I’m currently doing animation with my students.”

Our partners at P.S. ARTS then led attendees through an arts integration workshop where we learned theater games to use in the classroom, as well as strategies for incorporating creative movement and theater into social studies lessons. One participant shared, “I LOVED the drama activities! I’m already planning on sharing them with my students starting tomorrow! I love that there are different entry levels for engagement and the opportunity for student voice and choice.”

We ended day one with a review of schools’ strategic arts plans to assess progress and identify areas for further support.

We started day two with a soul line dancing workshop with J&J Soulful Steps. We discussed how the arts help us learn persistence as we try new things and how we can create environments where students feel safe to explore.

Mackie Saylor from the Turnaround Arts program in New York shared her work with NYC public schools developing community arts projects that foster more equitable shared spaces for students and teachers.

Program Manager Chelsey Brunelle supported teachers in exploring strategies for developing strong collaborative arts leadership teams at their school sites.

We wrapped up the retreat by exploring student impact evaluation and sharing key takeaways from our two days of learning.

“The arts strategies shared were so engaging, and the safe space provided helped us all feel comfortable to take risks and experience joy.”
-Attending Teacher

Turnaround Arts: California Honors Six Superintendents With the Inaugural Creative Leadership Award

From left to right: Malissa Shriver, Dr. Gudiel Crosthwaite, Dr. Eduardo Reyes, Dr. Darin Brawley, Jennifer Lane, Dr. Michelle Rodriguez, Dr. Eduardo Reyes, Barbara Palley, and Holly Bass

Turnaround Arts: California was thrilled to honor six superintendents from partner school districts with a Creative Leadership award in recognition of their commitment to the arts as an essential tool for learning engagement and college and career readiness in the 21st century. The award reception took place on Wednesday, February 7th, at the Westin South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa. Honorees included:

Dr. Darin Brawley
Compton Unified School District
Dr. Eduardo Reyes
Chula Vista Elementary School District
Dr. Gudiel Crosthwaite
Lynwood Unified School District
Jennifer Lane
Klamath-Trinity Joint Unified School District
Jerry Almendarez
Santa Ana Unified School District
Dr. Michelle Rodriguez
Stockton Unified School District

“With everything a District Superintendent oversees and is accountable for, it is a rare and brave leader who empowers principals and teachers to do this kind of innovative and creative work. We have been blessed to be able to partner with these extraordinary professional educators, who have amplified learning and are enhancing teaching through the arts,” shared Malissa Shriver, Co-founder and Board Chair of Turnaround Arts: California

Decades of research show that students with arts-rich instruction see big leaps in reading and math skills, are 5x less likely to drop out of school, and 4x more likely to obtain a bachelor’s degree. Yet in California, the creative capital of the world, a staggering 61% of public school students don’t have access to music and arts education. By partnering with Turnaround Arts: California, these superintendents have demonstrated their commitment to ensuring access to high-quality arts instruction for their students – from arts-integrated math and history curriculum, to murals, poetry and drumming workshops, family art nights, and more. Turnaround Arts supports the 11 partner schools within these districts to use the arts to boost academic engagement, social-emotional learning, and ensure equitable outcomes for all students.

“At a time when schools are grappling with an unprecedented student mental health crisis, ‘learning loss,’ and high rates of teacher burnout, the arts have been a powerful tool to improve the well-being of students, deepen their engagement in classroom learning, and empower teachers to better meet student needs,” shared Turnaround Arts: California’s Executive Director Barbara Palley. “The arts are an essential tool for building connections and the joy of learning in schools.”

From left to right: Willard Intermediate Principal Bertha Benavides, Superintendent of Santa Ana Unified School District Jerry Almendarez, Music Teacher Dylan Aguilera, and Band Director Jeremy DelaCuadra with members of Willard Intermediate’s Jazz Band.

Photos by Rudy Torres at NightFlare

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

“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.

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