Imperial County

NAME OF COUNTY: Imperial County Office of Education
COUNTY SUPERINTENDENT: Dr. Todd Finnel, Imperial County Superintendent of Schools
COHORT LEAD: Queana Givens-Jarvis, Curriculum Coordinator EMAIL:

Scroll down to see how Imperial County Office of Education and partners are working to increase student access to arts education.

Imperial County spans 4,482 square miles of arid desert with a substantial agricultural-based economy.

About Imperial County

Imperial County (estimated pop. 181,827; U.S. Census Bureau, 2018) is located 120 miles southeast of San Diego, California, and 60 miles west of Yuma, Arizona. 25% of the workforce is employed in agriculture.

It is one of the most economically distressed regions in California, with residents suffering the highest unemployment rate (18.1%) in California (CA—4.2%) (Bureau of Labor Statistics, annual average, 2018). Unemployment in the region has long been a persistent issue. An average of only 43% of families is considered able to meet the basic levels of self-sufficiency, with over one-fourth of all its residents and one-third of its children living in poverty. According to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2014-2018, estimates suggest that 21.4% of Imperial County residents live below poverty levels, as compared to 12.8% for the State. The County also has the lowest per capita income ($17,590) in California ($35,021), and 75.8% of Imperial County students qualify for the Free and Reduced Price Meal program. Proximity to the Mexico border creates unique challenges for its residents. The region has become a flourishing drug-trafficking corridor for the Mexican Sinaloa Cartel moving drugs into the United States. Imperial County is considered one of the top-3 drug trafficking corridors in the U.S. and designated a High-Intensity Drug-Trafficking Area by the DEA (U.S. Dept. of Justice, 2011). 

The mission of the Imperial County Office of Education (ICOE) is to improve the quality of life in our community. We work closely with Imperial County’s sixteen independent school districts as well as public service agencies, businesses, institutions of higher education, and elected officials to ensure that meeting the educational needs of local children is a community priority. We serve 37,703 students in 63 schools. 

● 92.9% Hispanic or Latino (CA: 54.9%) – Highest rate in California 

● 77.9% Socioeconomically Disadvantaged (CA: 60.7%) – 4th highest rate in California 

● 39.7% English Learners (CA: 18.6%) – Highest rate in California 

● 7.9% Migrant Education (CA: 0.8%) – 2nd highest rate in California 

● 10.7% Special Education (CA: 11.7%) – 46th in California 

● 0.8% Foster (CA: 0.5%) – 19thin California 

● 4.2% Homeless (CA: 3.2%) – 15th in California 

Key Goals of the County Strategic Arts Plan

Description of the arts strategic planning process:


The committee members were a mix of musicians, visual artists, actors, singers, dancers, educators and community members with a passion for the arts. 

Meeting 1 – December 9, 2019 

On day 1, the participants arrived eager but not sure of what they were going to be asked to do. Jim Thomas, California Alliance for Arts Education and facilitator of the planning, was introduced and immediately set the room at ease. We started with a welcoming line-up activity to investigate the 7 Norms of Collaboration. Mr. Thomas set the tone for how these 20 strangers would work together to achieve the outcomes of the planning process. Before long, the group was working as a team. The group was  introduced to the Key Components of an Arts Education Program. Understanding that quality curriculum and intentional instruction drive the Content; the commitment of resources and leadership enables Sustainability; and the relationships between people build the backbone of a fruitful Infrastructure; allowed the team to focus on the most important and impactful factors as we developed our vision for the plan. We literally threw our ideas up on the wall! 

Meeting 2 – January 30, 2020 

Day 2 began by reconnecting the team and naming our strengths and challenges. The group reviewed the previous day’s work, questioning whether initial ideas seemed to be under the purview of the district or the county office. Using expert facilitation skills, Mr. Thomas helped participants to sort, categorize, eliminate, and combine our ideas into 3 overarching goals. 

Meeting 3 – February 18, 2020 

On the final day, the team looked forward to imagining the steps necessary to move toward our goals. The group created action steps for each goal and recommendations for how districts could best support the actions of the county office. 

Highlights of Key Goals in the Strategic Arts Plan

The planning process led to three overarching goals. 

1. To Increase Access to High-Quality Arts Education for All Students
When teachers are equipped with the knowledge and skills to create opportunities for kids to experience art, they are usually excited to try it. This plan aims to provide professional development targeted toward teachers (grades K-6). 

2. To Leverage Resources to Maintain a Strong Arts Learning Community
Creating a network-style community of practice focused on art instruction was a recommendation of the committee. ICOE plans to host an exchange of ideas and also use the group to provide continued guidance to the county office about the needs of the sites and districts. 

3. To Ignite a Passion for Arts in Our Community
An advantage to our small county are the relationships throughout the community. This goal aims to create opportunities and avenues to bring together educators, artists, and local businesses in various ways for the benefit of student art programs. Student art events, educator recognition, and useful online resources to promote the arts is the aim of this goal. 

Value Statement: How has this been valuable for your county?

What have you seen as the value of arts strategic planning in your county? – This work has given clear and manageable direction to the Imperial County Office of Education (ICOE) about how we can support arts education. Given that there is a less-than-part-time coordinator on staff, the facilitation of the process clarified the purview of the county office and that of the districts. The opportunity to bring together multiple perspectives from inside and outside of the educational community was an extremely valuable experience. Educators were able to voice their successes and struggles, giving community members a new perspective about the system. Community members were able to share their experiences, hopes, and wishes for the future of Imperial County and offer their support as allies to the educators. Wrapping all of that up into statements of action was a valuable exercise to focus the energy of individuals to work collectively and develop guidance to prioritize the work for ICOE.

Next Steps: What will change in your county as a result of this planning process? 

The plan has actions that can be taken as soon as the fall of 2020, and also has a longer vision for growing the opportunities students have to participate in the arts. As a result of this work, a professional development plan will be developed that includes a strand for leaders and focus on training for teachers (gradeTK-6). For the secondary teachers, we plan to assemble a network that focuses on arts education, in general, but also increase opportunities to assemble by art content areas. Another immediate action will be redesigning and updating the ICOE Arts Education Website.


“The arts are complementary to every academic subject in our school systems. The arts allow students to express themselves in creative ways while learning more about themselves! Participating on this committee introduced me to the challenges our teachers are facing when trying to include the arts in daily curriculum. I am passionate about the arts, especially for our youth. It is my hope that participating on this committee with other arts community members, will lead to an action plan for implementation.” – Ann Irygoin, Community Committee Member and ICOE Foundation Board Member 

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