Now more than ever, we appreciate the arts in schools and in particular our amazing arts administrators. Orlando REP is a proud partner of Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) for over 50 years. A significant factor in the success of our partnership and the many programs, performances, and professional development for teachers we collaborate to provide is our colleagues in the Visual & Performing Arts department at OCPS. Scott Evans and Ashley Spero are nothing less than arts champions and both work tirelessly to provide opportunity and access to every single child in Orange County Public Schools. We can’t thank them enough and wanted to take a moment to introduce them to you and share how they got to where they are today. Both Scott and Ashley took the time to share their story and their insights around the state of the arts in Orange County Public Schools.
What is your job at Orange County Public Schools?
Scott Evans: Senior Director, Visual & Performing Arts, Orange County Public Schools
Ashley Spero: Resource Teacher for Dance and Theatre, K-12.
How did you get to where you are today?
Scott Evans: I started my career as an elementary music teacher in the public schools. While teaching elementary music, I was named teacher of the year 2 out of my 6 years and had my elementary chorus invited to perform at the American Choral Director’s Association Florida Conference as well as the Florida Music Education Association. I also enjoyed producing a musical each year involving as many students who wanted to be a part of the show. I would create roles for all students and even invite faculty to join. I loved my time teaching Kindergarten through 5th grade before finally deciding to try something new and moving to a middle school chorus position. I taught middle school chorus for several years and during that time, had the opportunity to open a new school and build a program from scratch. We had fantastic students at this new school and in just 2 years got invited to perform at both the American Choral Director’s Association Florida Conference as well as the Florida Music Education Association. I also produced musicals during my middle school teaching, but this time had the opportunity to work with a theatre teacher. I learned a great deal from the theatre teacher at my school and we produced some pretty outstanding shows together. I loved the opportunity to collaborate with someone who had a great deal of experience with the theatre tech and design. I truly loved my years in middle school but was invited by my Principal to join him as he moved to become a High School Principal. I taught High School choral music and music technology for two years before taking a pause from education in the public schools. At that point, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to be selected to be the Director of the newly formed Orange County Arts Education Center. This organization was focused on community-based advocacy related to arts education opportunities for all residents. I built strong relationships with our community arts organizations including Orlando Repertory Theatre, Orlando Ballet and the Orlando Philharmonic for example. Together, we were able to heighten the awareness of arts learning for all ages and really shine a spotlight on the incredible programs offered in our arts community. After running this organization for about 3 years, I was offered the position of Administrator of Visual and Performing Arts for Orange County Public Schools.
Ashley Spero: I am a product of the great arts programs right here in OCPS! I went on to earn my BFA in Dance Performance from Florida State University, was the Co-Director of the Dance Magnet Program at Dr. Phillips High School, danced professionally with Voci Dance, earned my masters in Educational Leadership from the University of Center Florida, and have been in my current position for a decade now.
What is your favorite thing you get to do for teachers, for students:
Scott Evans: My favorite thing to do and most challenging aspect of my work is the removal of barriers to learning for all students. We work very hard in our district to ensure all students have access to arts education if they chose to participate. My work involves doing the same for teachers in regards to their ability to have the best possible facility, schedule and materials to teach students at the highest-level of artistry.
Ashley Spero: Coaching teachers is so important to me. I love going into classrooms to see the great things happening at their schools, providing feedback, and seeing the beautiful growth of these new teachers throughout the school year. They just blossom! For our students at OCPS, we have created and/or grown a stellar district-wide arts assessment in OCPS. These events are extremely valuable to our students, as they provide authentic assessment from industry professional judges in order to improve student performance.
How would you describe the state of the arts is in Orange County Public Schools?
Scott Evans: Amazing. We are so fortunate to have a community that understands the value of arts education for all students. For several years now, we have had access to dollars earmarked to protect and preserve arts education for all students in our district. This comes from a local property tax levied specifically in part for arts education that has passed the electorate by large margins each time. As a result, every school in Orange County has arts programs taught by certified arts educators. We have the highest percentage of students enrolled in arts education courses of the 5 largest school districts in Florida and are consistently showcased at the state and national level. We employ over 800 certified arts educators and serve arts education to 167,000 students per week. For the past 2 years, we have been identified as one of the best communities for music education by the National Association for Music Merchants and our students in both the visual and performing arts excel in their college and career pathways.
Ashley Spero: The arts are THRIVING in OCPS!!! There are visual and/or performing arts programs at ALL OCPS schools, and I am so thankful that district and school-based leadership sees the value and impact arts education has on students.
Why do you think theatre is an important art form for students in our schools?
Scott Evans: Theatre combines the elements of dance, music, theatre and visual art and provides our students with the opportunity to showcase what they have learned. It also provides students with an incredible platform to express themselves in a safe and supportive environment under the careful guidance of a nurturing teacher. In addition, theatre education provides our students with critical job skills needed for immediate work in the arts and entertainment industry so prevalent in the Orlando community. Most importantly, theatre education is critical to our students because it feeds their souls, makes them happy and nurtures and celebrates their individuality.
Ashley Spero: Theatre is an important art form for students for many reasons. It provides an opportunity for students to express themselves on stage or design through the use of technical skills that support the production. It creates an environment where a shy student can transform into a character on stage and share a heart-felt, passionate story with an audience. It provides an opportunity where students can explore and create original works of art. It creates a well-rounded student with skills (public speaking, building, problem solving, leading, organizing, collaborating in groups, demonstrating time management, etc.) that will help them in several career fields, in and out of theatre. I am so thankful for theatre education in our schools!
Scott and Ashley, we are so thankful for you! In uncertain times, it is great to hear that OCPS values the arts and specifically theatre. As shared by both of you, theatre creates opportunities to connect, transform, and support young people through creative expression and performance. We truly appreciate all you do to advocate for our students and teachers in this community. We look forward to learning about how the arts and specifically theatre will remain resilient and evolve in this time of exploring all that technology has to offer us as artists and advocates. The show must go on!