A Lompoc elementary school will undergo a major transition as it looks to lead the way in bringing arts programs back into prominence at local primary schools.

Los Berros Elementary School, which is located in Mission Hills, has spent much of the current school year preparing for a fundamental overhaul that will see the campus transformed into a visual and performing arts school beginning with the 2015-16 school year.

“I’m really excited,” first-year Los Berros Principal Heather Anderson said of the change. “We believe, and research has shown, that arts education plays an important role in the development of a well-rounded student.”

With the transition, Los Berros will become the only elementary school in the Lompoc Unified School District, and likely the only primary campus in northern Santa Barbara County, that touts an arts-based curriculum.

Along with using arts instruction to enhance traditional classes, Anderson said the change will also lead to the school forming an orchestra and a band in the next school year.

Last month, Anderson and Los Berros teachers Tracy Foust and Barbara Tang attended a LUSD Board of Education meeting to present the plans to the board. Although the presentation was listed on the board’s agenda as a report and not an item requiring any action, the board, as well as LUSD Superintendent Trevor McDonald, responded favorably.

“We are extremely excited to better integrate the arts into the daily lives of the students at Los Berros,” McDonald said Wednesday. “We know that students perform better and are more well-rounded when they are exposed to and have the opportunity to express themselves through the arts.”

Anderson noted that the change in philosophy at the school was initially brought up during a brainstorming session with school staff. After discussing the idea with parents and others in the community, Anderson said it all started to come together.

One of the main concerns among parents has been funding, she said. Since Los Berros has open enrollment — meaning that families who live outside of its attendance zone, or even outside of the district, can file paperwork to transfer to the school — some parents are worried that funding might run out once their child is already enrolled.

Anderson addressed those concerns by noting that no additional funding is being used to support the new programs. She said that current funds will just be re-allocated.

Los Berros has 388 students. Anderson said that there is room for more with the current facilities, and space available to expand the current set-up if needed. To help get out the word about the new programs being offered, Los Berros is inviting the community to an on-campus open house at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.

“I’m not sure what to expect,” Anderson said of the open house event. “I know the people we’ve spoken to have been interested and excited.”

Under the new plan, students in transitional kindergarten through the second grade would have weekly art instruction from resident artists and also weekly instruction in performance art, either dance or music. Students in the upper grades would have “more interest-based art instruction,” the principal said, noting that they would choose from a selection of electives each trimester.

The school expects to have 20 credentialed teachers to start the school year, including four newcomers who will replace some teachers who decided to transfer due to the new curriculum.

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“All of the ones who stayed are 100-percent committed to the vision going forward,” Anderson said.

Having grown up in Lompoc and gone to LUSD schools, Anderson said she can recall having arts play a prominent role for her and her peers during their school days. She said that has been absent for Lompoc students over the last couple decades, however, so she’s hopeful Los Berros can help lead the way in bringing that culture to today’s kids.

“What we really hope is that this is the beginning of something,” she said, noting that three of her five children are currently enrolled at Los Berros. “I think parents and the community have always believed this was something that should be at all schools. There’s so much research that shows that this crosses over and teaches so much. I think this will shine a light on what can be done everywhere.”

Superintendent McDonald shared that vision.

“We believe (Los Berros) will be an example for many schools within and outside of our district,” he said. “Bottom line, we know this is good for kids and we want to do all we can to enhance the learning of all students within our district. This is just one example, of a leader and school stepping up to the plate for the betterment of kids.

“We look forward to great things from Los Berros and learning from this journey.”

Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.

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