Santa Cruz County Office of Education Photo montage
Educational Services Division

Art Teachers Do Art!

Art teachers working in clay

Arts teachers from Live Oak, Pajaro Valley and Santa Cruz City working in clay in the county-wide arts professional development series.

There has been a decline in arts programs in Santa Cruz schools over the last couple of decades which makes it tempting to focus on what isn’t happening, rather than the high quality arts teaching which is still happening in several schools throughout the county. Santa Cruz is a county which attracts artists of all types and fortunately for our students, many of those artists are also credentialed teachers. However, the limited number of arts programs in schools leads many arts teachers to feel isolated with little (or no) peer interaction. Every teacher needs community with which to exchange ideas, to discuss curriculum, to further their own learning as well as their students’ and, not least, to have a support system. This realization prompted the COE to sponsor and coordinate three very unique workshops in fall, 2011, focused on building community among arts specialists county-wide.

art teachers consult on a piece of artwork

Aptos High Arts Chair, Veronique Marks and Santa Cruz High veteran art teacher Katie Harper consult on a piece of artwork.

Over the last decade, arts teachers in the Santa Cruz City Schools district have coordinated their own professional development, coming together once a month to articulate curriculum and work in arts learning communities. The COE worked with the Santa Cruz City School district to expand the scope of this model to include other school districts countywide. Murry Schekman, Assistant Superintendent at the Pajaro Valley Unified School District, gave the green light to the arts teachers at PVUSD to join the county-wide effort as an alternative to site-based data teams.

Having the buy-in of the two largest school districts the offer was then extended to all other districts in Santa Cruz. The response was amazing and despite having to come outside of their normal professional development time, there was huge enthusiasm for the idea.The result was that 40 arts teachers (about 80% of current credentialed arts teachers in the county joined together for the first of three sessions in October at Harbor High School.

Greg Brown, elementary music specialist, Live Oak

Greg Brown, Elementary Music Specialist from Live Oak, was one of the teachers who joined with peers from across the county.

The first session began with a “getting to know you” activity where the arts teachers gathered in groups of their specific arts discipline. The visual arts group was the largest (although veteran art teacher Susan Megorden remarked that it was much smaller than what it would have been 20 years ago!).

visual artists from across the county

Visual artists from across the county gather together.

The music group had 10 participants (about 90% representation of the county music specialists) and the theater and dance group numbered 8. The atmosphere was electric and carried both a sense of reunion and curiosity. Teachers were looking around the room with wide grins to see who else was helping keep the arts alive in Santa Cruz County schools.

The different arts discipline groups then shared projects they had done with their students and made decisions about whose project they would like to explore more deeply.

The visual arts group was led by Lilith Ohlson-Perez from Soquel High School and Susan Megorden from Aptos Junior High School. Each of the twenty plus teachers took great pride in presenting a student project, and the group chose two projects they wished to explore in depth at the next session.

Tamera Smith, San Lorenzo Valley High, shares a visual art project

Tamera Smith from San Lorenzo Valley High School shares a visual art project she worked on with her students.

The music teachers, led by Christy Latham, were delighted to have an opportunity to meet other music teachers and share not only projects that had worked well, but begin to explore some resources that individual teachers had found useful.

Christy Latham, Santa Cruz High, led the music group

Christy Latham from Santa Cruz High School led the music group.


Christy Latham, Santa Cruz High, led the music group

Cathy Warner, who led the performing arts group, was thrilled to see that all the teachers had come prepared with a theatre or dance activity and they also had an opportunity to begin to share resources related to their disciplines.

By the end of the session it was obvious that every teacher who had attended felt inspired and re-invigorated by not only being with their peers, but also by having an opportunity to be a learner and ‘do’ art in their own discipline.

The success of the first session was repeated in the second session in November when a similar numbers of teachers attended, eager to both learn from their colleagues and share their own expertise. Michael Emery, who teaches 3D art / ceramics at Soquel High School, had been elected by his peers to teach his “Ugly Mug” clay project and it was more convenient to teach it in his own classroom, so Soquel High School ended up co-hosting the November session.

Soquel High's Michael Emergy taught a lesson in clay

Soquel High’s Michael Emery taught a lesson on creating an ‘ugly mug’ from clay.


some of the teachers mugs ready for firing

Some of the teachers’ ‘ugly mugs’ ready for firing.

In an adjoining classroom Susan Megorden taught a metal relief project which she regularly teaches to her middle school students.

Susan Megorden demonstrating one part of metal relief project to Jan McGeorge from Mountain School

Susan demonstrates one stage of the process to Jan McGeorge from Mountain School.


metal relief project demo

In the Soquel High music room, Christy Latham (Santa Cruz High instrumental teacher) opened the session with a short warm up and facilitated a sharing of two musical activities from Zena Urquhart (Santa Cruz High vocal music teacher) and Mark Bidelman (vocal teacher at Soquel High)

Mark Bidelman – choral teacher at Soquel High

Mark Bidelman – choral teacher at Soquel High.

Meanwhile over at Harbor High, Cathy Warner was leading a group who enthusiastically shared performance arts activities with each other.

performance arts teachers

The performance arts teachers getting to know each other.

The final session in December was a continuation of the work done in November with more presentations by Martha McNulty (Harbor High School visual art teacher). She taught a lesson on student travelogues and Veronique Marks (Art Chair at Aptos High School) demonstrated a creative use of stencils for students’ self-portraits.

Scotts Valley High art teachers Emily Brandt and Nicole Bommarito learn a stencil technique

Scotts Valley High art teachers Emily Brandt and Nicole Bommarito learn a stencil technique for self-portraits from Veronique Marks of Aptos High School.

Michael Watkins, County Superintendent of Schools, who attended the final session, met with teachers, gave a short presentation on his commitment to arts education, and answered questions from the group. He reiterated that the COE would support arts education wherever/whenever possible.

Lilith Ohlson-Perez, the Santa Cruz City visual art leader, shows Superintendent of Schools Michael Watkins her travelogue

Lilith Ohlson-Perez, the Santa Cruz City visual art leader shows Santa Cruz Superintendent of Schools Michael Watkins her travelogue from a lesson taught by Harbor High’s Martha McNulty.

The evaluations from the teachers confirmed the popularity of the series. Teachers described the sessions as ‘inspiring’ and ‘invigorating’ with an overwhelming ‘yes’ to continuing county-wide professional development like this in 2012. The COE already has plans to meet with districts early in the year to strategize how to maintain this momentum and reinforce the collaboration among arts educators county-wide.

Santa Cruz Superintendent of Schools Michael Watkins addresses the arts specialists

Santa Cruz Superintendent of Schools Michael Watkins addresses the arts specialists.


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