Charter High Schools: Closing the Achievement Gap
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Toledo School for the Arts
Toledo, Ohio


School Profile: Selected Variables
Year First Chartered and Authorizer 1999, Toledo Board of Education
Grades and Enrollment 6–12 and 379
Student Ethnicity 37.5% African-American
1% Asian American
5.1% Hispanic
56.4% white
Special Education 5%
Free and Reduced-price Lunch 44%
Graduation Rate 97%
Annual Cost per Student $7,138

Source: School records data from 2005–06

Entering the Toledo School for the Arts (TSA), one sees students passing through the hallways with musical instruments slung over their shoulders, walking to class with a purpose, past walls covered with superb murals and collages. Instead of a bell ringing, music plays over the loudspeakers to announce the end of class. Next to the administration office, an art gallery displays paintings commissioned for Sea Gate Convention Centre, African masks made of clay, pottery vases, and an assortment of creatively painted furniture. Looking at the professional quality of this work, all done by students, and feeling the special ambience, it comes as no surprise to learn that this charter school for grades 6–12 is dedicated to bringing the arts to academics.

The mission of TSA is "to provide students with creative opportunities to achieve personal and academic success through arts-based learning. TSA prepares students as life-long learners and productive members of society with appreciation of, and competence in, the arts." TSA Director Martin Porter explains, "We want to use the arts not just in the studio setting but also in the classroom. We believe that arts-based education is the best tool to work with creative kids."

In the late 1980s, a group of local educators, parents, and art patrons collaborated to set up an arts school but could not get funding. Then in 1997 when Ohio passed its charter school law, six members of the original group saw their chance; a director was hired in June 1999 and TSA opened 77 days later.

School Operations and Educational Program

TSA offers a college preparatory curriculum to 379 students in grades 6–12 who come from 13 different school districts throughout northwest Ohio. While fully integrating the arts, the academic program is rigorous, aligned to state standards, and, according to several parents, better than the neighborhood schools. For example, TSA has more course requirements than the local district schools: TSA requires two years of a foreign language and four years of social studies, whereas Toledo Public Schools requires no foreign language and only two years of social studies.

The arts curriculum includes music, dance, theater, and visual arts. Music includes instrumental orchestra (wind, string, and percussion) and ensembles; a jazz and pop music program; and chorus, piano, and guitar classes. For practices and composing, the school has a recording studio as well as practice rooms and a computer lab with computers connected to musical keyboards. Dance spans modern, ethnic, ballet, and stage dance (jazz and pop), and junior high students receive an introduction to each of the four art disciplines: dance, music, theater, and visual arts. Theater encompasses acting and training in technical staging, and students participate in local community theater productions after school and during the summer. The visual arts program covers photography, two- and three-dimensional studio arts, graphic design, introduction to color and design theory, different media, art history, and art criticism. TSA collaborates with the Toledo Museum of Art to support the curriculum.

Many students enter TSA not ready to learn on grade level, but teachers use a variety of support structures to bring them up to grade level. This year, TSA received Title I money for the tutoring of struggling students at the high school level. Also this year an intervention specialist began coming to TSA daily to work with students who are failing or in danger of failing one or more classes. Porter is proud of the results: After 12 weeks, nearly 50 percent of the students receiving this support tested back into their original class. The teachers also have created and provide an ACT-preparation course before and after school and on selected weekends.

Along with the innovative combination of a college preparatory program with a rigorous arts curriculum, come extensive opportunities. TSA students give about 90 performances per year in front of audiences that add up to approximately 15,000 people. Local organizations and companies often hire TSA students to perform at various events. They also perform regular "gigs" at local clubs, restaurants, and festivals.

TSA cultivates an inclusive environment where teachers and students alike feel welcome and encouraged to express themselves. Porter explains that most Toledo schools are very traditional and if you're not a "jock or genius" you will not find your niche. The dynamic of an arts-integrated curriculum eliminates the self-esteem issues many kids feel in other schools because the arts provide an outlet for the students and encourages their strengths—be it in the classroom or through performances. Teachers are strongly committed, and many are artists themselves. TSA's math and science teacher, voted Northwest Ohio teacher of the year, is also a song writer and performer. She took a $6,000 pay cut to be at TSA and says she has never once regretted her decision.

Family Involvement and Partnerships

TSA has high parental involvement and a very active parent organization. Porter talks about parents' "great volunteerism," especially in the early years when the school was getting started—painting walls, cleaning bathrooms, laying tiles. Among the many fund-raisers for the school, parents work the concession stand at the Mud Hens minor league baseball games. They are motivated to raise funds for students to attend conferences and competitions at the state and national levels. One parent describes parents' involvement at TSA "as more of a partnership."

Communication with parents is key and is handled systematically at TSA. For example, starting in students' junior year, parents receive a month-by-month calendar highlighting important college information and testing dates. In a system initiated by the parent organization, every parent or guardian also receives a weekly phone message with school announcements. Nine newsletters each year highlight significant student awards and accomplishments, announce upcoming testing data, and include articles about other school-related events. Starting next year, all parents will have access to and will be able to look at assignments and grades earned by their children.

TSA excels at developing "ARTnerships" with numerous local organizations. Porter defines an ARTnership as another community or cultural institution that shares the school vision and can contribute to student education in the arts. They join with TSA's efforts and commit their expertise and other resources to help students realize their dreams. For example, every student enrolled in a TSA string instrument course receives weekly instruction from Toledo Symphony Orchestra musicians. The Toledo Opera provides opera lessons, with TSA, the opera, and students sharing the expense so it costs $5 per week for students. The Toledo Museum of Art, an ARTner of five years that is located five blocks away from the school, has created an extended docent program and museum staff work with teachers to create meaningful experiences for students. Classes visit the museum 15 times a year, guided by the same docent, who highlights certain pieces of art that relate to what the students are learning in a particular class. Porter believes this is a great way to make sure that the arts have a voice in the academic classroom.

The Toledo Repertoire Theatre allows TSA students to use the theatre space twice a year for major productions. Last year 13 students performed in the Toledo Repertoire Theater's "Christmas Carol." Eighteen students were in the Toledo Jazz Society's "Harlem Nutcracker" last year, and over a dozen performed in the Toledo Ballet Association's productions of The Nutcracker and Coppelia. For three years, TSA has shared a staff member with the Center of Science and Industry, a physical science teacher who helps bridge the gap between school-learned science and science as a profession.

Governing for Accountability

The school is led by an administrative team and its 17-member school board. At the school level, TSA has a strong leadership group. Its director, Porter, not only works at the school but also serves on the Toledo Ballet board and plays trumpet professionally. Howard Walters, the academic principal for three years, supervises the academic staff, handles all discipline and attendance issues, and is in charge of teacher evaluations. The artistic director supervises the art teachers and the development director for the past three years is a former TSA teacher. After successfully raising funds and soliciting in-kind instrument loans and donations for his percussion class, he was brought on full time as the development director. This team meets twice a week to discuss the school's budgetary needs and school program issues.

Professional development occurs three or four times each year, during in-service days. In the past, TSA has hosted technology trainings in-house and also has used the Toledo Museum of Art to demonstrate how to integrate arts into the academic curriculum. This year, the staff—as part of their professional development—did an item analysis on the state tests in which they examined student performance on each item to see which standards students mastered and which questions they got wrong and decided to implement a new computer-based program.

Eleven of last year's seniors earned the President's Award for Outstanding Academic Excellence. The graduating class of 2005 had 39 seniors, of whom 65 percent went on to attend four-year colleges, 8 percent went on to two-year colleges, and 2 percent went into the military. Twenty-five percent took jobs or entered into advanced study in the arts; for example, one graduate is in the Broadway touring cast of "Wicked." Thirty percent of graduating seniors have received merit-based scholarships. Parents describe the changes they have seen in their children since attending TSA. One parent says her daughter "wouldn't be the person she is today" and would not have the level of confidence she has now. All parents agree that TSA "changes kids" and they like how active and busy their children are—going to school during the day and then involved in production or rehearsal after school. Another parent explains that after a year of commuting to the school from a rural Ohio town over an hour away, she relocated her family to Toledo in order to be closer to the school so she could be more involved in the parent organization and her daughter could attend rehearsals at night. For the upcoming 2006–07 school year, there are 153 families on the waiting list for about half that number of openings.

Even though there is more schoolwork and homework than at the schools they would have otherwise attended, students feel privileged to attend. "Before I came here," says one, "I wasn't interested in anything. One thing about this school is they push you to try new things and break out of your box." A 12th-grade student says, "I think this school is amazing because over the years it kept me out of trouble. I would be in jail or dead right now, because a lot of my friends are in jail or dead." As another student concludes, "We may not have the money or the best facilities, but we have the most motivated people."

TSA: Evidence of Closing the Achievement Gap

State indicators for 2004–05 show that TSA students are performing far better than their local district peers. On the Ohio 10th-grade graduation test, the percentage of TSA students at or above proficiency was 95.6 in reading and 86.7 in math as compared to similar district or state scores of 82.9 and 63.5, respectively.

In 2005, TSA was rated "Excellent," an improvement over its 2003 school designation of "Continuous Improvement" on the Ohio Department of Education's annual school assessment as well as its 2004 rating of "Effective.'

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Last Modified: 11/18/2009