Irvine Schools’ Art & Music Leader Passes the Baton

The Irvine Unified School District will lose a “visionary” leader June 30, when Brad Van Patten retires, say supporters of the longtime arts education director.

“Brad’s leadership has been critical in helping IUSD envision and then build one of the most successful and highly regarded visual and performing arts programs in the nation,” IUSD Superintendent Terry Walker said.

The district’s art program has won national acclaim during the 19 years that Van Patten has been at its helm. For 10 consecutive years, the National Association of Music Merchants Foundation has named it one of the nation’s Best Communities for Music Education for its “exceptional efforts toward maintaining music education as part of the schools’ core curriculum.” When other school districts throughout the country slashed their art and music budgets during and after the 2008-09 recession,  IUSD maintained and improved them under Van Patten’s leadership and with help from Irvine Company’s Excellence in Education Fund.

Irvine public schools provide arts classes as a core subject for pre-K to sixth grade and as an elective after that, a policy Van Patten described as “equity and accessibility.”

“I grew up in schools that had a ‘conservatory’ mentality,” he said. “Only those who really excelled could continue. But we don’t stop teaching math for kids who stop excelling in math. Everyone gets it throughout the school career, which is important, because the arts give students ways to be creative and communicate, whatever they choose to do as adults.”

In his long career, he said he had seen former students grow into their 30s and 40s and use the poise and skills they’d learned in theater and music classes to excel in everything from TV journalism to pitches to investors.

Achievements Aplenty

“The arts program is one of the things that makes the district really special, and it’s 100 percent the result of Brad’s vision,” said Leslie Roach, principal of Northwood High School, where Van Patten taught before his promotion to director of arts education.

“We’ve always had a great program, but Brad has identified things that need to happen to make it better,” Roach added.

More than a decade ago, Van Patten spearheaded moving the district’s annual Donald Bren Honors Concert to Henry and Renee Segerstrom Concert Hall, where he said “parents can actually hear how their kids’ music sounds.” He also hired a new district employee to repair musical instruments rather than sending them out of the district, which Van Patten estimated saved $300,000 in the first year alone.

Walker credited Van Patten with keeping the district’s music and arts classes going during the pandemic, despite so many interruptions and limitations on group activities. In one creative improvisation, high school students used Soundtrap to create and perform songs together remotely.

Van Patten praised Walker’s administration for giving him the freedom and resources to excel and said he was grateful for the unusually supportive parents in the community.

“People love the arts and they love to see their kids in the arts,” he said. “The Donald Bren Honors concert sells out in two weeks, and every concert presentation at school is packed.”

Van Patten, 62, studied clarinet as an undergraduate at Cal State Long Beach and taught arts and music classes in San Diego and Garden Grove for 23 years before coming to Irvine. He said he decided to retire because “I’ve been in this position enough years that it’s time for someone else to be doing it.” He said he would probably find part-time work in the arts in the coming months after enjoying some time off.