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SERVE Center - The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

A+ Schools logo A+ Schools Program

Sustainable Arts-Based School Reform

The A+ Schools Program at SERVE is a whole school re-form model that views the arts as fundamental to how teachers teach and students learn in all subjects. The mission of the A+ Schools Program is to create schools that work for everyone—students, teachers, administrators, parents and the community.

Grounded in the A+ Essentials™, the central vision of A+ is to create enhanced learning opportunities for all students by using arts-integrated instruction, which incorporates Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences, other theories of intelligence, and recent brain research. For schools, A+ gradually becomes a comprehensive education reform because other changes in school practice, in areas from assessment to scheduling and collaboration to parent involvement, radiate out as necessary to achieve this central vision.

A+ schools combine interdisciplinary teaching and daily arts instruction, offering children opportunities to learn through all the ways in which they are able. The arts are taught daily to every child: drama, dance, music and visual arts at least once each week. Teaching the required curriculum involves a many-disciplined approach, with the arts continuously woven into every aspect of a child's learning.

A+ represents a viable option for schools seeking a focus based on the arts and multiple modes of learning as the primary approach to the curriculum. A+ schools cover the North Carolina Standard Course of Study through interdisciplinary thematic units, combined with arts integration and hands-on, experiential learning, including daily arts instruction by arts teachers. A+ schools also develop strong partnerships with parents, area cultural resources, local colleges and universities, and the media.

Program Description

The A+ Schools Program creates statewide (and sometimes regional) networks of A+ Schools that choose to adopt and implement the A+ philosophy and practice, and that make a commitment to participating in Network activities. The North Carolina A+ Network consists of 43 A+ Schools from across the state that represent the diversity of all schools in North Carolina. As part of a statewide Network of A+ Schools, teachers and principals participate in ongoing professional development, and planning retreats facilitated by A+ Program administration.

The A+ Schools Program has enabled schools to use the arts to "re-form" their approach to "doing the business of schools"—educating children. The evaluators have consistently found that A+ Schools have been able to respond to accountability standards in both effective and creative ways, meeting standards in North Carolina's high-stakes testing program and developing a school identity around the arts by deeply integrating the arts into the curriculum.

In addition to the usual measures of student achievement and school success (expected gains in test scores, student and teacher attendance, student discipline and parent involvement), the A+ Schools Program evaluators and developers identified the unique contributions that the arts in education make to students' intellectual, social, and emotional growth. This "value-added" case for the inclusion of the arts in a school's curriculum proved to be a strong justification for A+, and schools have continued to achieve growth on North Carolina's accountability tests comparable to that of other schools statewide without "narrowing" the curriculum (i.e. not eliminating non-tested subjects such as science, history and the arts).

Brief History

Established in 1995 by the Kenan Institute for the Arts, the A+ Schools Program began with 25 schools, representing the diversity of North Carolina, participating in a four-year evaluation. The results of the initial evaluation, and the subsequent evaluation in the eighth year, attributed the success and sustainability of the Program to the use of arts in school reform, the professional development and the network created to support teachers and schools. In 2003 the A+ Schools Program moved from the Kenan Institute for the Arts to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. And in 2009 A+ became a Program at SERVE Center.

For more information about the A+ Schools Program or to order copies of the research reports, please email us, or call the A+ Schools Program office at 336.315.7429.

Mission Statement

The mission of the A+ Schools Program is to create "Schools That Work for Everyone." This mission has guided the Program for over 12 years as it periodically redefines its focus and work.

The current focus of the A+ Schools Program is to:
  1. Continue to refine and conduct research on the A+ Schools Program and the dissemination process in North Carolina and nationally. 
  2. Expand and maintain the North Carolina A+ Schools Network through continued professional development and refinement of the arts-integration school reform model. 
  3. Develop, disseminate, and evaluate effective models for teacher recruitment and retention including an arts-integrated demonstration model of teacher pre-service training. 

History and Scope of the A+ Schools Program

In 1995, the A+ Schools Program was created and established in North Carolina as a statewide network by the Kenan Institute for the Arts, a private, non-profit institute at the North Carolina School of the Arts. The Program, which began with 25 PreK-12 public schools participating in a four-year evaluation, combines arts integration, continuous professional development, and the use of statewide support networks for teachers and administrators to implement a state's mandated curriculum and meet accountability standards. Soon after beginning the Program, additional North Carolina schools began joining what had come to be called the Network of A+ Schools.

Upon completion of the four-year evaluation in North Carolina, other states began to express interest in the Program. In 2000 the North Carolina Program began a four-year process to assist the Kirkpatrick Foundation in Oklahoma City in establishing a statewide A+ Schools Program in Oklahoma. Today, the Oklahoma A+ Schools program has 46 schools with plans to continue adding schools each year.

In 2001 the North Carolina Program began a similar dissemination process with the Windgate Charitable Foundation to assist in establishing a statewide Program in Arkansas.
In 2003 the A+ Schools Program moved from the Kenan Institute for the Arts to the University of The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. The A+ Schools Program staff work closely with UNCG faculty and staff to develop innovative arts in education research projects and programs.
And in 2009 the A+ Schools Program became a Program at SERVE.

National Recognition

The A+ Schools Program is now nationally recognized as an effective, research-based strategy for sustainable school reform and has partnerships and contracts with other state initiatives to assist in establishing statewide and regional A+ Schools networks. Most recently, the Program is the topic of the book Creating and Sustaining Arts-Based School Reform: The A+ Schools Program (2009, Noblit, Corbett, Wilson, and McKinney).

The A+ Schools Program has been recognized across North Carolina and cited extensively as an exemplary program in the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction publication, A Balanced Curriculum, and nationally as an effective, research-based strategy for sustainable school reform, Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Development, (2002, Arts Education Partnership), Putting the Arts in the Picture: Reframing Education in the 21st Century (Center for Arts Policy at Columbia College Chicago), and Third Space: When Learning Matters (2005, Arts Education Partnership), and Arts Integration Frameworks, Research & Practice: A Literature Review (2007, Arts Education Partnership).

The North Carolina A+ Network

Networks Within The A+ Schools Network The A+ Schools Program is built on both the strength of individual school identity and the supportive nature of networks. One of the key early decisions by A+ Program developers was to build the creativity of the arts into the design of the reform itself by encouraging all the schools in the pilot to adapt the central idea of arts-driven instruction, and eventually school reform, to the unique contexts of their schools and communities.
The North Carolina A+ Schools Network serves as a forum for its 43 A+ Schools to participate in intensive professional development, exchange ideas, and engage in joint problem solving. A+ has been a multilevel reform, with implementation driven by individual schools while being reinforced by the exchange of resources through the Network.

The North Carolina Network assisted Oklahoma and Arkansas in establishing similar statewide networks of A+ Schools. The three states now work together as a consortium of statewide A+ Schools programs.

Within each state's larger A+ Network there are several networks of professionals who help guide the A+ Network and its members. These networks include the A+ principals, the school-based A+ coordinators and A+ Fellows who conduct professional development for A+ Schools and partner organizations.