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New director will lead investment in arts education (Video)





CMSD has hired a director to lead the expansion of arts education across the District.

Jeffery Allen will facilitate plans to enhance arts education in every school in partnership with the local arts community. A Cleveland native with a theater background, Allen previously worked for the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage as the director of education and public programs. 

“The importance of arts as a means of communicating giant ideas, but also as a way of transforming a community, was really what was waking me up at night and motivating me to get up in the morning,” Allen said. “The opportunity to come here and bring those life experiences to the scholars of our District is a dream come true.”

Allen will be at the helm as the District rolls out an arts education improvement plan that’s been in the works since 2016, when leaders from CMSD, the Cleveland Foundation and the George Gund Foundation formed the CMSD Arts Education Committee to begin exploring the potential for expanding and improving arts education in Cleveland. The committee has consulted national experts and researched successful arts education initiatives in districts like Boston, Chicago, Dallas and Seattle. 

The plan calls for making the arts a critical element of the core curriculum, generating standards-based instruction in the arts, providing high-quality instruction by arts specialists and classroom teachers, creating opportunities for students to explore interest in the arts, integrating arts into other subjects and ensuring that every school has the resources it needs to do all of the above.

It’s a monumental set of tasks, but Allen is up for the challenge. He wants to instill in all CMSD schools a culture where the arts are essential.

“We have, as a nation, had a conversation for the last few decades about accountability, about test scores, and arts have always been at the bottom of that list,” Allen said. “We’re taking a hard look at the curriculum and making sure that not only do we have good standards for visual art and music, but that we’ve developed good strong standards across all grade bands for theater and dance and other art forms.”

He also hopes to expand the traditional definition of arts education to include digital arts, media arts and other technological applications of artistic expression.

Allen has hit the ground running with a listening tour at CMSD schools to take inventory of each school’s existing programming and to learn what schools need in terms of resources, staff, partners and other support.

The successful implementation of the CMSD arts education plan will require buy-in from the city’s robust arts community. The District already has strong relationships with many organizations, including Progressive Arts Alliance, the Center for Arts-inspired Learning, Playhouse Square, Great Lakes Theater, GroundWorks Dance Theater and Cleveland Public Theatre.

Allen wants to take these partnerships to another level and has set a goal for every CMSD school to have at least one arts partner.

“Cleveland is one of the most arts-rich communities in the nation, and we have ready and willing partners,” Allen said. “We need to make sure that we’re communicating fully with them and getting the opportunities for our scholars to have every possible experience. Whether you just need to know about art to enrich your life or you want to choose the arts as career, we need to have those portals ready for young people.”

District CEO Eric Gordon says this initiative will partly build on the high-quality arts programming already in place at many schools.

“We have some amazing educators doing meaningful work with our talented scholars,” he said. “This is about taking that to a deeper level and developing the capacity so that arts become a part of the fabric of every CMSD school.” 

The plan calls for every child in every grade at every CMSD school to have not only a baseline exposure to the arts, but also clear pathways for pursuing their interests as a hobby or a career.

"We know that our kids have talent and capability, so let's make these connections so that they can actually express themselves fully in every possible venue," Allen said. "Other districts have these opportunities for their students, and it is our duty to make sure that we provide these same opportunities for students n Cleveland."

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