The building that houses VSAA is among the oldest in the district. Formerly known as Shumway Junior High School, it opened in 1929 at what was then the outskirts of town.
Today, VSAA is an important part of the thriving downtown area. Students in sixth through 12th grades experience six art forms: dance, literary arts, moving image arts, theatre, visual arts and music. The school also focuses strongly on academics and integration among subject areas.
Parental involvement and a sense of community are vital to the school’s identity. Also important: the staff. More than 75 percent of the faculty has at least master’s degrees, and they provide one-on-one support to students through advocacy roles.
Students thrive at VSAA, with most staying all seven years of their secondary education. The graduation rate is 100 percent. Ninety-three percent of students in the class of 2016 intended to enroll in two- or four-year higher education institutions.
Today, however, the building is too small to serve its current student body adequately. It also does not accommodate local demand for arts experiences. There are many challenges:
- Capacity: Each year, this magnet school receives between 500 and 600 applications. Due to the size of the building, it can accept only 100 to 120 students. VSAA also is the hub for arts education in VPS. It holds free after-school dance and orchestra opportunities for students all over the district, arts camps and professional development for educators. Capacity limitations often mean that the number of students and people who can be involved in these activities is restricted.
- Space: While the school features many dedicated spaces—everything from dance studios to recording studios—every available space is in use, including a former closet that has been repurposed for photography. In addition, the small science rooms are inadequate and there is no official PE space for the school’s 300 middle-schoolers.
- Royal Durst Theatre: The facility serves as the venue for all-school showcases that are important to VSAA’s identity and foster the collective commitment to creativity and exploration. It accommodates approximately 540 people; however, VSAA has 590 students and 50 staff members.
- Parking: Space is limited for parking and presents a challenge whenever the school hosts large events.
The school hopes to be able to accommodate approximately 200 more students in the future. “It is a privilege to come to VSAA every day,” said Principal Lori Rotherham. “I am excited about more students having that opportunity.”
Vancouver Public Schools has a plan to do just that. On Nov. 9, the district sought input from staff members, parents, current and former students and community members who engaged in a symposium to discuss the school’s needs. As a result of their feedback, planning teams worked to create three concepts for VSAA’s future.