Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Principal Ahava Silkey-Jones' testimony before House committee

Principal Ahava Silkey-Jones provided the following testimony before the Minnesota House Committee on Education Innovation Policy on March 3.

Madam Chair and esteemed Members of Committee:
My name is Ahava Silkey-Jones and I am the new principal for the Perpich Arts High School. Thank you for the opportunity to address you today. I am honored to speak about the continued relevance, impact and dire need for the Perpich Center for Arts Education historically, currently and for the future of our students, families and communities throughout the State of Minnesota. Throughout our 32-year history we have shaped, championed and informed arts education statewide.
The desperation students and teachers expressed to help save the school after learning of this bill yesterday weighs on me as I consider the catastrophic impact a comprehensive closure of this agency would cause. The Perpich Center is so much more than a school or an outreach provider to so many.
Perpich is an identity. Perpich is a dream. Perpich is quite literally a lifesaver. It’s an indispensable component of communities everywhere in Minnesota, where our work has had impact on tens of thousands of students and thousands of teachers over three decades.
The arts represent over a 2-billion-dollar footprint statewide and the Perpich Center is a core, tangible commitment by the state of Minnesota to prioritize not only the compilation and dissemination of best practices in the arts but to take ownership over the most effective and advanced training, presence and direct instruction in the arts.
Perpich creates space in Minnesota for artists to thrive, it encourages our most creative members to embrace their perspective, live in it and become something greater because of it. In the absence of Perpich many young artists are relegated to the periphery in their schools, never heard or supported, never allowed to see their gifts flourish. We all lose when that happens. Perpich, and Perpich alone, does that, brings artists and teachers together from around the state so they can learn from and with one another, building a cohort of creative, critical thinking, innovative members of society that move on to recraft the communities in which we live.
That’s why Perpich is evolving. The challenges we currently face have not rendered this institution obsolete but rather revealed its essential nature. When I walked through the doors of Perpich for the first time, I was floored by the life that emanates from all its spaces—each of the more than 4000 students that have attended Perpich lies within those walls.
Enrollment has declined in recent years and we have taken concrete steps in addressing these challenges. With the support of a strong team we have made strides towards both our short-term and long-term goals in this regard. We have yielded a 900 percent increase in student applications from Congressional District 7 this year already. We had one of Perpich’s highest all-time attendance rates at an information session in January for prospective families amidst this very public political criticism. And we are hosting a summer arts camp for students in grades 8-12 for the first time in decades to plant the seed of Perpich in the hearts and mind of the next generation.
We have not yet achieved the growth we envision but we have a comprehensive plan that we are committed to seeing through until we fulfill our mission. Graduates of Perpich are state and nationally recognized. They have gone on to Julliard, UCLA and Ivy League schools, pursued careers in medicine, law and government as well as succeeding as working artists from the East to West Coast and right here in Minnesota.
Just this year Perpich students have earned over 97 regional Scholastic Arts & Writing Award recognitions with 27 of them going on to national competition, second only to a school with a student population of close to 2000. The one thing that makes all Perpich graduates stand out is that they name Perpich as the determining factor in their ability to find success.
Perpich develops artists, and artists give back to our communities, volunteering at a rate of three times the state average. Our outreach work has expanded to include regional centers that impact schools, teachers and communities that would otherwise not have that insight, support, perspective or advantage. Our Turnaround Arts program, part of a nationally recognized effort to help our lowest-achieving schools, is changing the way schools work, providing whole-school arts-integrated  interventions and, in turn, creating life-altering climate and culture changes on campuses struggling to embrace diverse learners. We are training and deploying arts and classroom teachers through our statewide Arts Integration Network to use the arts to increase classroom success through methods that outside evaluators have praised because they create sustainable and highly effective change in teaching and learning. Perpich has championed the development of the 21st century creative workforce, using the arts to bridge the achievement gap and ensuring Minnesota is one of the states leading this work in the nation.
Perpich has struggled recently, but Perpich isn’t lost. As one of my esteemed arts faculty members says “The Perpich name is a promise between the people of Minnesota and this school to provide the highest standard of creative excellence—and to do this, we must not be afraid to grow, change and adjust. Leadership comes from the inside out. We are poised. We’re ready.”
To that point I say: we are ready to evolve, to grow, to invest in the aspects of our work that have the most impact for the state, to fulfill our mission in serving students of greater Minnesota, to expand our mission to prioritize equitable access for students from all socioeconomic, racial and cultural backgrounds and to identify our gaps and adjust our tactics until we are not reaching but exceeding our essential role in maintaining Minnesota as a state that believes in investing in 21st century workforce development and advancing arts education. “Perpich is not a part of some of us, it’s a part of all of us”
Thank you.

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