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Giving Every Student a Chance to Succeed in the Future

Christine Harrison, principal of Millwood Arts Academy and Freshman Academy, describes her experience as a Champions of Change and her mission as a leader in arts education in Oklahoma.

Ed. Note: Champions of Change is a weekly initiative to highlight Americans who are making an impact in their communities and helping our country rise to meet the many challenges of the 21st century.


On July 19, 2011, I was recognized at the White House as a “Champion of Change” by the Obama Administration. This honor included the opportunity for me to participate in a roundtable discussion, concerning arts education, with other fellow colleagues across the country. In addition, a Los Angeles group, known as the Creative Coalition, made up of several movie stars also participated in the discussion of educating children through the arts and expressed ways to keep the arts alive in America’s schools.

It was a humbling experience to actually sit around a table in the White House, voicing my views on arts education, as well as listening to President Obama’s Assistant Secretary of Education, Peter Cunningham, and many others, share their insight into the status of today’s arts education. Further, I was impressed to witness the passion of the President’s Art Committee, led by Dr. Mary Campbell, Dean of the School of the Arts at New York University, as well as several non-profit art education advocates. The education commitment of this administration was strongly felt around the room as discussions continued regarding the positive effects of the arts in the schools. My visit to the White House firmly validated President Obama’s vision to ensure that all schools in America successfully prepare children for lifelong learning and achievement. The round table session included the discussion of ways to reinvest in arts education. The President’s education initiatives, such as, “Race to the Top” and “Educate to Innovate” were pointed out as vehicles for schools to produce students that are not only academically smart, but innovative and have creative minds. We ended the round table discussion brainstorming strategies that will help to sustain arts in education.

In spite of inadequate funding from our state, Millwood board members and the superintendent have committed to maintaining its arts programs. While many schools are selecting the arts as the first to cut, Millwood stakeholders have witnessed firsthand the effects and therefore, will seek ways to continue educating students through the arts. As a practitioner, I will continue to build collaborative partnerships with local universities and business owners as it relates to the importance of the arts. Our number one goal is to further become a model ‘world class’ school of the arts.

To sustain the academy’s focus on the arts, the Millwood staff has consistently trained through Oklahoma’s A+ Schools Network, which serves as the catalyst for much of the school’s academy success. The arts in education initiative, strongly supported by Millwood’s five-member board, has changed the school’s culture, increased parental involvement, as well as made teaching and learning fun for both teachers and students. With that, the integration of the arts in the classroom has aided in students discovering many hidden talents and skills. My mission, as a transformational leader, is to give every student a chance to succeed in the future.

Christine Harrison is the principal of Millwood Arts Academy and Freshman Academy in Oklahoma City, OK.