Mountain View School District: Arts Education and Its Impact on a High Needs District


Like many school district administrators, Dr. Jeff Lagozzino wears numerous hats as the Director of Student Learning Support, Technology and Assessment at Mountain View School District. Prior to starting his position in the 2014-15 school year, Dr. Lagozzino was a school principal at several of the district’s sites, which include 12 elementary and middle schools.

“On the first day of my job, the assistant superintendent forwarded an email to me saying, we have this grant that was applied for last year,” Dr. Lagozzino said. “It’s going to require some work in getting us going.”

The grant was part of the Arts Education Collective’s Advancement Grant Program, which offers financial support to public school districts and charter networks in Los Angeles County with a focus on increasing the quality, quantity and equity of arts education for all students. Looking over Mountain View’s grant-funded project, Dr. Lagozzino discovered that while the district had proposed to increase the quantity of arts instruction, in reality, they had resigned themselves to making few changes in their arts instruction offerings. 

Where Was Mountain View?

Five years ago, the visual and performing arts were unevenly distributed across the district, with instrumental music and visual art offered as electives at middle schools, a band program for the sixth grade, and a shadow puppetry residency through The Music Center (now facilitated by LA Arts Group) for only half of second-grade classrooms. Mountain View’s Advancement Grant project for the 2014-15 school year intended to expand shadow puppetry to the remaining second grade classrooms, and all third and fourth grade classrooms across the district.

“When I first saw this – quality, yes – we knew we had a great program with LA Arts Group,” Dr. Lagozzino said. “Quantity, yes, in the sense that we’re expanding it. But we were doing more of the same and really needed to do something different. What came out of this is that we revised the plan and introduced artist residencies in third and fourth grades that were not shadow puppetry.”

The district reached out to Cammy Truong, executive director of LA Arts Group, about connecting their students with artists who could teach other disciplines. Ms. Truong then took the lead in coordinating and scheduling teaching artists who could offer Irish, flamenco or hip-hop dance for the third grade as well as instrumental or vocal music for the fourth grade. In a single year, second, third and fourth graders at Mountain View received expanded offerings in the visual and performing arts that exposed them to new skills and art forms.

“Looking at it from a bird’s eye view, it’s about creating a shared vision and a commitment to invest time and resources for that shared vision,” Cammy Truong said. “It’s important to start small so there’s room to build. Teachers need to see how it impacts them and their students. We always have a kick-off with professional development for teachers. Collectively, we gather feedback from students, teachers, and district staff to see how we create a map for next year.”

What Do Mountain View Students Look Like?

Mountain View is a district of significant needs. Despite this, it has made significant inroads in establishing a sustainable arts education infrastructure that can weather the vagaries of school budgets and shifting local priorities.

Over ninety percent of students are from economically disadvantaged households and over half are English language learners. Additionally, nearly all students are either English learners, eligible for free or reduced-price meals, foster youth, or any combination of these factors. As a result of this, the district receives supplemental and concentration grants through the California Department of Education’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF).

Mountain View School District is located in El Monte, 13 miles east of downtown Los Angeles. The cultural makeup is largely Latinax, with a significant Asian population. The median income in the city ranks as one of the lowest in LA County, while half of the city’s population is comprised of those born outside of the United States. These realities are reflected in the 6,400 TK-8 students currently enrolled at Mountain View.

Focusing on both the quantity and quality of arts instruction has been one important factor in creating arts education that has long-term buy-in. Furthermore, teacher professional development and multi-year commitments to projects have been key to constructing a road map for high-quality arts learning at almost every grade level in the district.

What Are Some Strategies for Impacting Arts Education?

In addition to expanding the district’s in-school arts programming through the Advancement Grant Program, the 2014-15 was also the school year in which the district joined the TEAL (Technology Enhanced Arts Learning) program. TEAL is a project of the Los Angeles County Arts Education Collective, developed and implemented by the LA County Office of Education (LACOE) in partnership with the LA County Arts Commission, and offers a suite of online and in-person professional development resources for K-6 educators to learn about methods and theories for integrating the arts into learning in other subjects.

A serendipitous recruitment email from Dotti Ysais, senior project director at LACOE’s Center for Distance and Online Learning, led to an opportunity for Mountain View teachers to be trained as TEAL coaches. Training these teachers to be TEAL coaches meant that the district would have staff trained to disseminate arts integration strategies to classroom teachers across the entire district.

To select teachers for the TEAL training, Dr. Lagozzino relied on those he already knew from his earlier role as a school principal. “Arts integration was a specialty of Marita D’Arnaud, a sixth grade teacher, so I reached out to her and asked if she wanted to be trained as a TEAL coach,” Dr. Lagozzino said. “Ofelia Heredia, who I worked with at a couple of different school sites, I knew that was her thing, too. And then Irma Parisi, a newcomer teacher – there isn’t anything she does that doesn’t infuse art, so she was a natural choice.”

The three teachers then participated in trainings at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), a TEAL partner. There, they met Dr. Veronica Alvarez, Director of School and Teacher Programs at LACMA, who would be instrumental in supporting districtwide professional development for Mountain View teachers. In the following summer, the district hosted a TEAL institute where classroom teachers attended arts integration trainings across multiple arts disciplines. The institute, which was attended by over 120 teachers, was supported by the district’s TEAL coaches, along with Dr. Alvarez and Laurel Butler, a teaching artist and performing arts specialist.

“A major part of TEAL is making sure that you experience the power of the arts as a participant,” Ysais said. “Then we go into the research-based strategies. We have wonderful partners who know that the power of the arts speaks to so much more than just one discipline. It speaks to the whole child.”

At Mountain View, the key factor to building enthusiasm for arts teaching and learning is teachers seeing concrete examples of the ways in which the district will support them. Fostering leadership and accountability among teachers has also come a long way in the success of arts integration strategies.

What Do Teachers Need to Succeed?

“Teachers are leaders at their own schools,” Ramona Chandler, an arts teacher on special assignment (TOSA), said. “They offer to share ideas and strategies and help other teachers plan. All of them have taken a role in helping to integrate the arts in classrooms. I also put myself out there for any teachers who need me to come in and do a lesson or work with them on lesson planning.”

Intentional support through professional development and material resources, as well as access to opportunities from the Arts Ed Collective network, have incentivized teachers to join teams and buy in to arts education over time. Upfront insight into the what and why of projects like TEAL, as well as the scope of work expected of teachers has been an effective recruitment strategy for the district. Perks, like the provision of resources like iPads and field trips have also supported teacher buy-in.

“One of my other jobs is about infusing technology to improve teaching and learning processes, so why not have technology be part of that team?” Dr. Lagozzino said. “Because of the Arts Ed Collective network, opportunities come to us all the time. A lot of times, it’s only for a classroom or two, but being part of a team can get you first access to opportunities.”

What Else Is Needed for Success?

Despite their successful participation in the Advancement Grant Program and TEAL, at the end of the 2014-15 school year, Mountain View still lacked a key component of a sustainable arts education infrastructure – a current school board-adopted strategic arts plan.

“We had these great opportunities in that first year, our connection with TEAL and expanding our artist residencies, but we didn’t have a plan to guide us down the road,” Dr. Lagozzino said. “It’s the most important thing that you can do.”

The last strategic arts plan Mountain View had adopted was a relic of the No Child Left Behind Act with a heavy emphasis on assessment. To rework the plan and make sure it reflects current priorities, the district formed a Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA) council with representation from every school site. To facilitate the yearlong strategic planning process, Arts Ed Collective strategic planning coach Sandy Seufert was assigned to the district. The VAPA council ultimately included 18 members including administrators, teachers, classified staff and parents.

“It was a cross-section of the district with people who wanted to see themselves infused throughout our programming,” Dr. Lagozzino said. “Sandy was an amazing facilitator, very interactive. We really got the conversation going. In the end, we had a very comprehensive plan.”

The VAPA council surfaced a number of important priorities and strategies for arts education in the district, including professional development through TEAL and bringing in community partners to support teachers. One priority that the council was adamant about addressing was the need for increasing the district’s capacity for arts coordination. Economic realities, however, precluded the district from creating a new position to support that role.

“Ideally, arts coordination would come from one person, but I came to realize that there’s a lot of us doing this work,” Dr. Lagozzino said. “I have an arts coordinator in Cammy Truong who coordinates our residencies and does all of the scheduling. I have TOSAs like Ramona Chandler who have a passion for integrating curriculum. Arts coordination doesn’t necessarily have to be a person, but it has to be a team. We’re still working on building that capacity for arts coordination, but our mindset now is that we can work with the team we have.”

2019 and Beyond: Where is Mountain View Heading?

Mountain View now has artist residencies from TK through sixth grade, with a number of other arts-based initiatives that the district is leveraging and connecting to maximize their impact. The district’s participation in LACOE’s Teaching English Language through the Arts (TELA) project, for example, dovetails with their implementation of the Sobrato Early Academic Language (SEAL) model for English language learners. SEAL TOSAs serve on the district’s TELA team, supporting the incorporation of visual arts strategies from TELA into SEAL units of instruction.

This year, closing the district’s gap in arts integration opportunities for the seventh and eighth grades is a priority. Because the district lacks enough electives or instructional hours in the day to reach all students through the arts, infusing arts-based strategies into content areas like social studies, science and math allows students to express their understanding creatively in a way that is manageable for teachers and integrated into what they’re already doing in the classroom. For the district’s next Advancement Grant proposal, Dr. Lagozzino is working with a middle school media arts specialist to fill the gap in seventh and eighth grades.

“This model is what we’ve used to move a variety of initiatives in our district,” Lillian Maldonado French, Mountain View superintendent and 2018 Los Angeles County Superintendent of the Year, said. “We have phenomenal summer learning and family engagement programs. We have at least 40% of kids participating in programs much bigger than those in districts three times the size of ours. Each of these began with a little seed funding and a lot of planning. We have to think about what it is we want to do, and as opportunities and grants come in, we see how things are going to be integrated.”

What Makes Mountain View Successful in Their Arts Education?

For Dr. Lagozzino, the successful expansion of Mountain View’s arts programming can also be attributed to the enthusiasm for the arts shared by teachers, students and parents alike. At one school site, the sixth grade class’ participation in Conga Kids, a twice-weekly in-school dance program, became an opportunity for the whole community to come together. In their first year of participation, a team of student dancers went on to compete in the semi-finals for a regional competition, performing merengue, swing, salsa, tango and foxtrot in front of their peers and family members.

“The principal decided it needed to be a community event and ordered buses to take the entire sixth grade to support their team with signs and cheers,” Dr. Lagozzino said. “The parents saw that the other teams looked very sharp – it’s not a requirement to have a uniform or dress, but it does add that bit of ‘extra.’ Over the weekend, the mothers at the school made dresses for the girls and made matching bowties and suspenders for the boys so that when they went to the finals, they would look a bit more polished. It was a whole community effort that came together.”

The team would go on to win the Countywide competition.

“Ms. Maldonado French and Dr. Lagozzino’s leadership, along with the resources they’re giving to arts programs, is sending a message about the importance of the arts to administrators, teachers, students and families,” Michelle Torres, principal at Twin Lakes Elementary School, said.

Fifth graders from La Primaria Elementary will be competing at the regional Conga Kids finals competition this year. In February, a team of La Primaria Elementary students showcased a sampling of their talents in front of an audience of school district leaders and educators from across LA County.

“I love this experience because it showed me how not to be afraid to dance with people,” one student shared after the performance. “What I learned from this experience is that I can do anything if I try,” another said.

For Principal Torres and the classroom teachers at the Mountain View schools, the social-emotional impact of the arts and the changes in their students’ confidence are undeniable.

“Knowing our students, knowing which ones [have learning disabilities] and the challenges they face, I am blown away by how they are dancing,” Ms. Torres said. “It just makes me so proud. I wish I could show this to their parents and hear them say, ‘What do you mean my son is dancing salsa?’”

What Are Some Replicable Takeaways?

Having the right leadership and vision, as well as the flexibility of integrating funds through the district’s Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP), have contributed to Mountain View’s success. Five years since he started his role as director, Dr. Lagozzino has learned a number of key lessons through his collaboration with the Arts Ed Collective.

“I’m not thinking just one year, one project anymore,” Dr. Lagozzino said. “If I’m bringing people together to work on something, it’s a multi-year commitment. Professional development and training for teachers are key to sustainability. It’s about teachers learning strategies so that in the event we have to pull anything away [due to funding], that’s still going to remain. The other piece is partnerships. We have so many wonderful opportunities that come to us. If we didn’t have this network, it’d be so hard to stay on top of everything.”