The Arts Based School: Celebrating 15 Years of Educating Children

Located in downtown Winston-Salem, The Arts Based School is known for its curriculum centered in the arts. According to Principal Robin Hollis, the school teaches the NC Standard Course of Study through music, dance, drama, and visual arts. However, educating through the arts isn’t the only thing the school is known for. This year, they will be celebrating their 15th anniversary.

“It’s quite exciting to see that we’ve been able to deliver on the promise of our charter. In the early years of the school, it took many dedicated parents, educators, and community partners, pioneers really, to translate the courageous vision of our charter into an actual school with children and regulations and all the complications of creating something from scratch,” said Hollis.

The Arts Based School is a charter school, meaning it is a public school supported by state, federal, and local tax dollars. Principal Hollis states that the school adheres to state and federal laws governing public schools, such as attendance laws, state testing requirements, etc.

“We accept all students by lottery. The only residential requirement is that you must live in North Carolina. In fact, we serve families from 21 different zip codes. As a charter school, we are not part of the local school system. We are not governed by the local school board or superintendent. Instead, we have our own voluntary board of directors made up of community leaders, business people, attorneys, parents, etc. Charter Schools were created by the NC Legislature to provide choices for parents and also to be a place of innovation. In contrast to school reform, charter schools provide the opportunity to create a school, as opposed to changing a school. Each charter school is designed from a vision of the charter. Again, our vision is to teach, motivate, and invigorate students’ learning through the arts,” said Hollis.

Students can attend the school from kindergarten through eighth grade. Parents can complete applications for enrollment to enter their child in the school’s lottery system. The vision of The Arts Based School is what brought Hollis and her family to the school. Shortly after relocating from Boston, Hollis couldn’t pass up the opportunity to join such a unique school concept.

“I joined the school during the first year, choosing it as a parent for my daughter who was entering kindergarten. The mission and vision of the school were a perfect match for what I expected for my daughter’s education. It was also a perfect match for me. My family had just relocated, and I had planned to stay home with my young son. However, I couldn’t resist the interesting concept and opportunity to make a real difference in education. It was my first year as a school administrator. I’m not sure any other administrator would have been naïve enough to think the idea would work. It took a tremendous amount of time and work,” said Hollis.

She often jokes that The Arts Based School is her third child, with all of the joys and challenges it brings. As for the school’s 15th anniversary, no specific date or celebration is yet planned. However, the students’ learning and success are celebrated daily throughout the year.

“We try to celebrate children and their learning and the success of a community, recognizing there is always something new to focus our attention and creativity on. We are constantly reviewing how we do things and how to make things work better,” said Hollis.

This constant striving for the best has paved a bright future for The Arts Based School. Plans for expansion are in the works, as well as adding new classrooms to the middle-school building and a new black-box theater. This theater was created with financial support from one of the school’s former board members, Alex Ewing.

“We are quickly outgrowing our spaces. Currently, we serve 520 students, but each year during the lottery, we have over 300 students that are added to a wait list. We cannot accommodate all of the families who would like to have their children educated at our school. Although charter schools are public schools, we don’t receive bond money or lottery funds. All construction for our facilities must be funded through fundraising. We were able to do this four years ago when we expanded from an elementary school to a K-8 school. A capital campaign was launched, and the community helped us build our middle-school facility,” said Hollis.

According to Hollis, in addition to being a great school, they also have an amazing group of educators. In the future, Hollis would like to see the educators sharing their expertise and best practices in a larger conversation of public education and preparing students.

“It’s hard to say what they future holds, especially when you have such a creative group of committed people, dreaming and creating great things for children. I do believe I have the greatest job in the world. I get to spend my days in the presence of children, doing work that I think is very important and meaningful. What could be better?” said Hollis.