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East County Tuesday, Sep. 20, 2022 1 week ago

Lakewood Ranch schools receive funding for visual, performing arts

The 1-mill property tax referendum is providing $2.5 million for visual and performing arts programs, offering more opportunities for students.
by: Liz Ramos Staff Writer

Her drawing of Country Club East Park needed a little extra shading, and Brielle Redmond, a sixth grader at R. Dan Nolan Middle School, was working hard to accomplish it.

She used to play at that park when she was a student at nearby Robert E. Willis Elementary School and now her ability to recreate the image has been bolstered with money from the 1-mill property tax referendum that was renewed with 69.27% of the vote in a special election in November 2021. 

“My last art class was at Willis (Elementary), and we didn’t have the chance to learn advanced techniques,” Redmond said. “I can’t wait to work with clay and have a canvas to paint on.”

Wade Smith, Redmond’s art teacher at Nolan, said all of his students will have an opportunity to paint this year as compared to past years when he could only allow a few students to paint due to limited funding and supplies. 

Smith has received $2,870 through the School District of Manatee County’s 1-mill property tax referendum. 

Visual and performing arts programs across the School District of Manatee County will offer more opportunities for students as a result of funding from the referendum. 

Read more: School District of Manatee County increases teacher pay

This is the first school year visual and performing arts has been included in the referendum. Of the $57.6 million the School District of Manatee County collected from the millage budget, $2.5 million will be allocated for visual and performing arts. 

“(The funding) allows us to build our current opportunities, then expand on those for our students,” said Laurie Breslin, the executive director of curriculum and assessments for the School District of Manatee County. “We truly believe the arts programs in schools allow us to develop that climate and culture that will allow students to come to school and love being there, love what they’re doing, stretch their curiosity and creativity, and develop problem solving skills.”


In the classroom

Breslin said in the first year of the millage funding, which expires June 30, 2025, the district is focusing on supporting the programs already in the classrooms by increasing enrollment in programs and ensuring classrooms are well equipped to support instruction.

“We want to get all the tools those programs need and then year two, we hope that will then drive greater student enrollment and we’ll be able to bring more teachers into the schools specifically for the arts,” Breslin said. 

Lakewood Ranch High School junior Abby Newton plays in unison with others in the Indoor Percussion Ensemble. Lakewood Ranch High's marching band program will receive $15,000 for its marching show and staff. (File photo)

Breslin said schools cannot expand programs or offer new programs until the schools have the equipment and student interest to do so. 

“It’s getting the foundations ready and then we can grow,” Breslin said. “It’s kind of like in a neighborhood when you put in the roads before you put in the houses.”

Breslin said having the necessary equipment and supplies for programs, such as instruments, clay, paint and paper, are crucial to ensuring quality programs. 

Read more: School overcrowding eases slightly with charter academy opening

“You could have the best teacher in the room and talented students in the room, but if you don’t have the tools, you can’t make it work,” she said. 

Smith said his students get bored of simply creating drawings. With the new funding, he’s able to provide hands-on instruction in other art forms for each of his 80 to 90 students including clay, acrylic paints, watercolor paints and more. 

“They will get a shift from doing pencil drawing to more tactile, hands-on kind of projects,” Smith said. “They love it, particularly the students that aren’t really into art. They don’t like to draw, but they might love clay so that gets them excited about the class.”

More students like Isabelle Han, a sixth grader at R. Dan Nolan Middle School, will have an opportunity to paint as a result of funding being provided for visual and performing arts programs through the 1-mill referendum.

As more funding comes in, Smith said he will be able to replace the classroom tables he’s had since 2004 that now are falling apart. 

Smith said the funding will allow visual and performing arts programs to provide “world-class education” to students. 

“(The funding) is validation for us with elective classes because we’ve been marginalized in the past, and the district has now sent a very strong signal that that we are emphasizing the elective classes and we’re going to provide the funding,” Smith said. 

With the funding, Smith plans to have his students create murals, participate in art shows, and become more integrated into the community with art. 

“It just makes it fun to come to work and to know that I have all the tools I need to teach these wonderful kids how to be great artists, how to be creative, and how to give them a break from the rigorous core curriculum,” he said. 


At the district level

Breslin said at the district level, arts programs will be enhanced with a music library, equipment inventory and an events calendar. 

The music library will allow all schools access to music that can be shared rather than individual schools purchasing their own music. 

The district will provide funding for transportation to visual and performing arts events whether it’s students performing at competitions or going to watch professionals perform at venues. 

Read more: Nolan Middle fosters creativity, tech skills with new animatronics lab

The districtwide events calendar will allow community members to be more familiar with when and where student performances are happening near them. 

“The students have the opportunity to shine and our community members have an opportunity to see what their vote means and what that’s doing to grow our community,” Breslin said. “The most exciting aspect about this is really it’s an opportunity for the schools to support the community and the communities to support the schools.”

Braden River High School sophomore Ezekiel Lopez strikes a pose while performing songs from "Chicago." Braden River High's theater department will benefit from the 1-mill property tax referendum. (File photo)

The district also hired a visual and performing arts specialist to support the programs throughout the district and a junior accountant to track and monitor spending, create purchase orders and distribute millage funding. 

Another focus throughout the district will be building opportunities for greater arts alignment between elementary, middle and high school art programs.

“I was talking to a chorus teacher at Manatee High School, which has a tremendous program,” Breslin said. “If we can capitalize on that and invite him to go and share his talent and the students’ talent with students at surrounding middle schools and elementary schools, students in younger grades can see opportunities they’ll have in high school.”

All visual and performing arts teachers will go through professional development, which Breslin said will help build collegiality among arts teachers across the district as well as help with recruiting teachers to the district. 

“Oftentimes, when you’re sitting at a state professional development opportunity for the arts, you’re working with educators all over the state, and we’re able to say this is what we’re doing for our school district and look at how our community supported us,” Breslin said. “In many communities, they don’t have the same support our citizens have shown us, so I believe that will attract talented educators to come here and want to work in our district.”


Creation of magnet schools

A goal of the district in the 2022-2023 school year is to create visual and performing arts magnet schools. 

The district has selected Manatee Elementary School, Electa Arcotte Lee Magnet Middle School and Bayshore High School to become magnet schools. 

District officials will work to develop a comprehensive K-12 plan for visual and performing arts for the three schools. 

On top of making the schools magnet arts schools, Breslin said the district will work on facility improvements for the schools.

For example, Manatee Elementary has a theater that will undergo renovations and in future years, the district will work on construction of an amphitheater to support Lee Magnet Middle School’s robust art programs.

“We know construction takes some time and you first have to get it approved by the board, so you’re not going to see those done in year one,” Breslin said.

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