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The arts at the center reform at Hope High School.

This is the first of a series of occasional reports about the opportunities and challenges facing Hope High School, an urban public high school in Providence, Rhode Island, which is in the process of enormous change. It presents a story of a high school reform initiative in which the arts are cast as a central element in a journey of renewal.

A number of things make this particular high school's story compelling: (1.) the school's reform efforts were mandated by the State's Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education. (2.) The arts in this school have been identified as "the thread that binds the content areas," despite the fact that Providence Public Schools has recently seen a drastic reduction in arts programming in its schools. (3.) parents and community partners are recognized as being fully integrated into decision-making.

A cluster of private schools, Brown University, and the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) surround Hope High School in Providence's most affluent neighborhood. However, Hope contrasts greatly with its immediate neighbors. The student body is overwhelmingly composed of underprivelaged minorities. The school's record of academic performance in statewide assessments shows that the majority of its students fail to meet proficiency levels in the core academic areas of mathematics and English language arts.

First Intervention

In 2002, Hope was identified as a school that for three years or more failed to improve student results, which led to an intervention by the Rhode Island Department of Education. The school was reorganized into three thematic, small learning communities (Arts, Information Technology, and Leadership) within the building and was charged to develop plans for site-based management.

Second Intervention

In 2005, the Commissioner made an even more dramatic intervention in the school; it retained its three small learning communities, but with three new principals. A "Special Master" was also appointed as the Commissioner's representative in the school. The corrective action plan is structured within four nonnegotiable areas:

* three small learning communities

* personalization of learning

* professionalism of practice

* active parents/community partners

It has been a year since the last intervention, and what has been achieved? I was privileged to have spent time at Hope Arts, one of the three small learning communities within the Hope complex. I worked with the school's administration and with the three visual art teachers, Amy Van Horn, Valerie Kline, and Laura Travis.

In my role as a community partner, I assisted the school in defining the kinds of teaching and learning practices that would create an effective arts-centered high school. Our shared vision established a rigorous arts program. This goal was appealing because the school had already chosen to adopt a model for unit design based on central questions or themes. Hope High School's other teachers are also eager to collaborate with the arts teachers in the design of instruction methods.

Enhanced Learning

Hope High School art teachers have revamped the visual arts courses for art majors and the elective Visual Arts Experience course designed for Leadership and Information Technology students. In addition, they have also created new specialty courses. These courses in digital media, printmaking, and sculpture will give students a richer menu of learning experiences. A course called the Art Museum as Classroom builds upon an existing relationship with the RISD Museum and supports the school's commitment to learning opportunities both on and off campus and beyond the traditional school day.

The visual arts teachers have made their thinking very evident in the school's debate concerning school-wide expectations. They have identified five dimensions of student performance: invention, execution, communication, reflection, and interpretation. These dimensions will be used to guide the assessment of student work in art, dance, music, and theater. There are challenges ahead, but I am extraordinarily encouraged by what has begun. I look forward to the opportunity to report further on their progress.

Dr. Paul Sproll is Head of the Rhode Island School of Design's Department of Art + Design Education.

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Title Annotation:High School
Author:Sproll, Paul
Publication:School Arts
Geographic Code:1U1RI
Date:Oct 1, 2006
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