Perpich News

Dr. Pam Paulson Retires After 33 Years at Perpich

Pam Paulson

July 15, 2020

Dr. Pam Paulson, Director of Professional Development and Resource Programs, has retired from Perpich Center for Arts Education after 33 years. Her last day at Perpich was Tuesday, July 14th. Paulson is one of the founding directors of Perpich Center for Arts Education. In her position as Director of Professional Development and Resource Programs, Paulson was responsible for professional development programs at Perpich; connecting with state and national arts and education organizations; heading administration of the statewide Perpich Library; and collaborating on data projects for statewide arts education with CreativeMN. She recently completed a five year term as a Trustee of The College Board. Paulson also chaired the College Board Academic Council and is past chair of the Arts Academic Committee. She was on the Steering Committee of the College Board National Task Force for the Arts in Education. She is the Minnesota representative of SEADAE (State Education Agency Directors of Arts Education), on the Advisory Committee of the Arts Education Partnership, and a member of the Leadership/Governance Team for the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards. Previously Paulson served as President of the National Dance Education Organization and the Minnesota Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development (MN ASCD). Prior to her work at Perpich, she created and directed the dance program at Apple Valley High School and taught for seven years at Augsburg College in Minneapolis.

Dr. Charles Rick, Perpich Executive Director, said, “Dr. Pam Paulson is a dedicated professional known for her advocacy for the arts on a local, state, and national level. I admired her passion and service in representing Perpich Center for Arts Education as Director of Professional Development and Resource Programs.”

When asked to reflect on her time at Perpich, Pam offered this:
“It was an experience of a lifetime to be one of the founding members of the small team that developed the Perpich Center for Arts Education. Governor Rudy Perpich and the Legislature created the agency and appropriated funds for establishing the Center. They provided general guidance in the enabling statute, but did not get involved in the actual development of programs and services. We were told that the Governor said he intended to hire the right people, with the right experience and expertise to do that. So, there we were in 1987, when I was hired, with what could be called a ‘blank slate.’ We looked at each other and said, ‘if you could do whatever you wanted to create the best school and resource center you could imagine – what would it be?’

One of the most important things we did to answer this question was dig deeply into the current research about effective practices for schools and professional learning. We made a list of the practices and ideas we thought were strongest and set about figuring out how to build a whole new state agency around those ideas and values. For example, in the Arts High School, we did not intend to use letter grades on report cards, but instead offer a narrative description of student learning needs and accomplishments. Each student had an advisor for the two years they were enrolled. And every student had an individual student learning plan that the advisor helped to monitor. We had a weekly common experience for students and faculty to attend to learn from each other as well as practicing artists and other experts in their fields. And all students were expected to do a community service project in their home community.

The Arts High School curriculum was built on 4 competencies students should develop: ‘knowing, doing, valuing, and creating.’ These were to hold true for all classes – not just in the arts. Math teachers were expected to have students creating. Social studies teachers would have students actively doing work. We instituted block scheduling and an interdisciplinary program that were very forward looking at the time. We hired faculty members who were ready to collaborate on building a school that was truly innovative and effective. It was a time of high hopes, high energy, and high visibility to see if this experiment would work.

The Resource Center had actually been launched in 1986 with an Advisory Council that was appointed by the Secretary of State. I served on that Council when we created the first programs for the agency – the Minnesota Arts Experience (MAX) and the great Minnesota Field Trip, which involved thousands of students and teachers in hands-on experiences all over the Twin Cities. We also set up a touring program to bring arts performances to communities across the state. All of this was done in collaboration with arts organizations statewide.

Once the Resource Center was established and serving teachers and students statewide with innovative programs, we spent two years planning for the opening of the Arts High School. At that time we were housed in the former Science Museum building in St. Paul. During those two years we also did two, week-long demonstrations at Camp Courage of what we thought the new residential arts school would look like. We brought in teachers and students from around the state to experience this program with us, along with a cadre of teaching artists and guest faculty, to provide an example of the rich curriculum we were planning.

We were amazed how many students applied that first year not having met any of the actual faculty since they had not been hired yet, or having seen the facility. We called that Alpha class and their parents the ‘greatest risk takers’ – committing to the school, site unseen.

Students showed up before we had fully renovated the Golden Valley Lutheran College campus to be ready for Arts High School classes starting in September, 1989. I directed the Dance and Music programs at that time but shortly after we had the school launched, I moved out of the Arts High School and took over the position of Director of the Resource Center. It has always been tricky to figure out how these two parts of the agency work together, but it is clear to me that each is stronger when connected to the other and the agency is stronger with both.

Now it is 33+ years later. The agency has made it through ups and downs and is still loved by students and teachers from around the state who appreciate the impact of the quality programs and resources on their lives. My life has certainly been impacted by this collection of experiences and the people with whom I have had the pleasure to work.

I am the last of the original founding members to leave the agency. I stayed a long time because there is so much work to do to make sure every student in Minnesota has the arts as part of their complete education. And the way we can assure that students have this opportunity is to make certain we have the most effective arts educators teaching our students.

Professional Development and Resource Programs works hard to provide teachers the support they need to improve their practices and nurture the next generation of thinking artists. I am thankful to Governor Rudy and Lola Perpich for their vision, the smart legislators who authorized the Center, and my colleagues for using their collective imaginations to create this new state agency in the late 1980’s. And I am thankful to the staff today who have continued to carry out the mission of this special place. The mission of the Perpich Center is still important today – maybe more important than ever. Best wishes to all as you continue to increase the reach, impact, and relevance of the Perpich Center for students and teachers statewide.”

We thank Pam for her years of service and wish her the best of luck in this next adventure!