Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts

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Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts
555 Portola Drive
San Francisco, California 94131[1]
Coordinates 37.7454° N, 122.4486° W
Established 1982
Principal Barnaby Payne
Faculty 80
Enrollment 619
Campus McAteer Campus
Teams n/a

The Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts (also known as SOTA) is a public arts high school in San Francisco, California, United States, which offers students an alternative college preparatory experience: a full academic curriculum complemented by a pre-professional arts training program in which students develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills. The creative community at SOTA is a socioeconomically and ethnically diverse population, representative of the celebrated diversity of San Francisco.


The Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts is the only San Francisco public high school with an audition process for admission. Prospective students can choose to apply to one of the various disciplines such as: Architecture and Design, Creative Writing, Dance, Instrumental Music (Band, Guitar, Orchestra, World Music), Media, Musical Theatre, Piano, Technical Theatre, Theatre, Visual, and Vocal (Classical Voice, Jazz Vocal) etc. A new program developed in the upcoming 2016-2017 year is World Dance.

Students receive academic instruction in the morning and spend the balance of the day immersed in learning the essential skills and craft of their chosen area of creative study, the department directors have created an inspiring hands-on program that draws on the talents of over 66 Artists-in-Residence working in the broader arts community, recruited to support specific goals of each department’s curriculum. This unique teaching structure exposes students to fresh ideas and experiences, creating a learning environment where vision, creativity and passion are valued in the formation of the whole person.

SOTA ranks among the top public high schools in the district, among the graduates pursuing higher education, 90% attend traditional colleges and universities; the remaining 10% choose to matriculate to art schools and conservatories. A number of SOTA alumni have gone on to attend the Juilliard School, Rhode Island School of Design, the Curtis School of Music, the Colburn School, Art Center College of Design, and numerous esteemed institutions for higher learning in the arts.

Many programs that now benefit students across the Bay Area, including Art and Film for Teenagers and Engineers Alliance for the Arts, were launched at this school. The Friends of SOTA Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization which manages the arts budgets and actively fundraises and provides support for the artists-in-residence and other programs, materials and equipment needed for the nine arts disciplines, the school invites the community to attend school events.


At its inception in 1982, SOTA was part of J. Eugene McAteer High School, on its present site on Portola Drive, for many years, Ruth Asawa, sculptor and passionate advocate for arts in education, as well as others campaigned to start a public high school in San Francisco devoted to the arts, with the ultimate goal to move to the arts corridor in the heart of San Francisco's Civic Center. In 1992, the school moved to a former elementary school at 700 Font Boulevard near San Francisco State University; in 2002, McAteer High School was dissolved, and SOTA was offered the site. The school community elected to make this move, with the understanding that the school would eventually permanently relocate to the Civic Center.[2]

In 2005 a new school, the Academy of Arts and Sciences, was founded on the McAteer campus, although it shares a campus with SOTA, it is a completely separate school.[3] The Academy admits students through the normal high school admissions process.

In 2010, SOTA was renamed the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts in honor of Ruth Asawa;[4] in 2011, the school was recognized as a "California Distinguished School" by the California Department of Education as one of the state's most "exemplary and inspiring" public schools, demonstrating significant gains in narrowing the achievement gap among its students.[5]

In 2014, the San Francisco Unified School District approved a plan to move SOTA to a building in the Civic Center, although there is no definite relocation date.[2]


White Latino Asian African American Pacific Islander American Indian Two or More Races
28% 19% 32% 13% 0.5% 0.5% 9%

According to US News and World Report, 62% of SOTA's student body is "of color," with 22% of the student body coming from an economically disadvantaged household, determined by student eligibility for California's Reduced-price meal program.[6]


1. Creative Writing: The Creative Writing department is a tight-knit community of diverse individuals who share a common passion for writing. The program introduces young writers to a variety of instructors and teaching styles, focusing on three main forms: poetry, fiction, and playwriting. Students write daily and participate in structured workshops with their peers where they learn to be critical readers of their own work, they regularly submit their work to literary journals, attend literary events in the community, and analyze the work of others. Seniors complete a year-long thesis project under the direct supervision of an established writer.

Students take their work to the SOTA stage three times a year at major events, each spring, the department releases a new volume of its acclaimed literary journal, Umläut, a collection of SOTA student work edited entirely by Creative Writing students. There is also a department blog, run entirely by students, with news, events and samples of student work, the department chair, Heather Woodward, originally joined the faculty as an English teacher and was instrumental in creating the department in 2002.

2. Dance: The department chair, Andrea Hinman, was a SOTA Dance graduate. The Dance program offers a rigorous and creative environment designed to bring out the very best in each student's talents. Students work daily in the professional dance world, taking their afternoon classes in downtown San Francisco at the studios of Lines Ballet and at the ODC Dance Commons, they build a strong technical foundation over their four years in the program, developing emotional expressiveness and individual artistry through the study of ballet, modern, and jazz styles. Students also learn the principles of choreography, the Dance Department produces a two-evening showcase each spring that attracts audiences from the greater San Francisco community.

3. Instrumental Music: The Instrumental Music department offers a rich program in both traditional and non-traditional music through four major strands of study: Band, Guitar, Orchestra, and World Music. There are individual department chairs for each strand: Henry Hung-Band, Scott Cmiel-Guitar, Tristan Arnold-Orchestra, and Monina Sen Cervone- World Music.

Band (brass, woodwinds, and percussion) and Orchestra (strings) offer training primarily in classical music and jazz to students who have demonstrated the required proficiency in a particular instrument. Students study music theory, composition, song writing, ethnomusicology, and electronic music, in addition to receiving focused instruction in their specific instrument by the department’s artists-in-residence. Band and Orchestra students perform in large and small ensembles throughout the year and have the opportunity to collaborate with students in other departments, including Piano, Vocal, and Media.

Introduced in 2012, World Music offers a kinesthetic approach to music learning to students with little or no prior musical training or proficiency in a musical instrument. World Music students explore non-western as well as western forms of music and instruments, including Taiko drumming, Indonesian Gamelan and Chant, Afro-Cuban drumming, Filipino Tinikling, classical Indian music, piano, and guitar

4. Media: The Media Arts program trains students in all aspects of independent video and film production. Students work in a variety of film genres including documentary, narrative, animation, and experimental, learning the essential skills of pre-production (planning, writing, story boarding); cinematography (camera basics, shooting, lighting, art theory); and post-production (editing, special effects, titles). They may also explore audio production and design, pod casts, and web design. Analysis, discussion and the study of films and film history also play an important role in the Media curriculum.

Media’s two annual showcases of student work are among the most popular of SOTA’s many events and regularly demonstrate creative collaborations between students from Media and those from other SOTA departments, including Creative Writing, Instrumental Music, and Vocal, the department chair is Scott Eberhardt, who has is a member of the English faculty.

5. Musical Theatre: The Musical Theatre program, headed by Ron S. McCan, trains students in all aspects of the American art of Musical Theatre. Students take classes such as Ballet, Tap Dance, Jazz Dance, Acting, Choir, Performance Technique, Writing for Musical Theatre, and Directing.

6. Piano: The Piano department, directed by Ava Soifer, offers young pianists a unique opportunity to study music literature from all period styles and develop their skills as performing artists. Students take weekly classes in music theory, sight singing, improvisation, performance, and vocal accompaniment in addition to receiving private coaching in solo and duo piano literature. All students perform in two piano recitals each year and, by selection, chamber music and vocal concerts, in collaboration with the Instrumental Music and Vocal departments. Students may also elect to participate in SOTA Jazz ensembles.

7. Technical Theatre: Referred to as "Tech," the multi-faceted Technical Theatre department allows students to participate, first hand, in the magic of SOTA’s many theatrical and staged performances. Tech students take part in all areas of production including lighting, sound, set design and construction, stage and house management, costuming, make-up, performance, event organization, and leadership, they learn to work independently and in groups to complete time-sensitive projects. The department chair is Paul Kwapy.

8. Theatre: The Theatre department offers its students professional conservatory-type training in movement, voice characterization, playwriting, and directing. Structured into four levels—Basic, Intermediate, Intermediate 2, and Advanced—the program focuses on script and character analysis, dramatic literature interpretation, and acting technique, with an emphasis on learning by doing. Students are on their feet as much as possible, developing professional work habits and practicing their craft year-round in full-scale productions and brown-bag performances.

Students are encouraged to participate in regional theatre festivals and competitions as well as apply to the California State Summer School for the Arts where the SOTA Theatre Department is well represented each summer, the department director is Philip Rayher.

9. Visual: The Visual Arts program, headed by Phyllis Ciment, offers intensive studio training that emphasizes the mastery of technique and use of observational skills in the development of an original personal style. Students focus on fundamentals during their first year, studying composition, perspective, and color theory, and practicing basic drawing and painting techniques. Additional media, such as sculpture and photography, are explored in subsequent years. Senior students complete the program by developing a series of works on a topic of their choice. All students study art history and submit their work to national contests including the National Congressional Art Award and the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. The department mounts four exhibitions each year, one for each grade level, showcasing the year’s best works in a range of media—drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, and graphics.

10. Vocal: The Vocal department, headed by former SOTA student Kristen Grzecka, offers its students classically based choral and voice training designed to develop the complete singer. Students choose one of two strands: Classical Vocal or Musical Theater. Classical Vocal is rooted in the study of European classical literature, world music and twentieth century music with extended study in jazz, musical theatre, pop, and gospel. Musical Theater combines a musical theater vocal repertory with acting, dancing, and technical production. Students learn songs in German, French, Italian, and English.

Program elements include written theory, sight singing, concert attendance, and community involvement. All Vocal students perform in both solo and ensemble settings, sing in the chorus (members qualify to perform), and participate in labs, which emphasize solo art songs often in collaboration with student pianists, the wide array of musical opportunities open to Vocal students include tours, festivals, master classes, competitions, recording sessions, and leadership development through an elected student executive board, as assistant conductors, and as section leaders.

The department prepares graduates to continue their training at selective conservatories nationwide including Juilliard, Manhattan School of Music, Oberlin College and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

11. Architecture and Design headed by Monica Tiulescu, offers students a contemporary discourse interdisciplinary design education. Projects range from product design, fashion design, graphic design and interior, landscape, and architecture design, the class is run based on a design studio curriculum. All work is project based and students work both on their own and collaboratively, the program prepares students for higher education in diverse design fields.


To enter Ruth Asawa SOTA, prospective students must pass a rigorous audition into one of the many disciplines, the audition process varies between disciplines, and may change from year to year. Some departments, such as Visual Arts and Tech require students to bring a portfolio of their work to be presented before a panel of judges, the Media department requires prospective students to bring in a short film, or a storyboard. Theatre, Dance, Instrumental Music, Vocal Music departments require live performances by prospective students as part of their auditions. Creative Writing requires students to complete a set of prompts on SOTA campus and there is a brief, one on one interview with the department head. Prospective students are encouraged to attend school shows and events and may attend admissions info sessions, it is suggested that they shadow for a day, all admissions info is on the website. There are several parent ambassadors through the Parents for Public Schools Ambassador network.


Ruth Asawa SOTA does not have an athletics program, but students are allowed to join teams of other public high schools or outside leagues. All students, however, must fulfill the district-mandated requirement of 4 semesters of physical education, this is not restricted to taking a Physical Education course at a school.

Notable alumni[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ "Asawa San Francisco School Of The Arts (SOTA)". San Francisco Unified School District. Retrieved May 17, 2016. 
  2. ^ a b Kottmeier, Gisela (February 12, 2014). "District approves SOTA relocation". The Lowell. Retrieved May 19, 2016. 
  3. ^ "Academy of Arts and Sciences". San Francisco Unified School District. Retrieved May 17, 2016. 
  4. ^ Tucker, Jill (February 24, 2010). "S.F. school board votes to send pink out slips". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved May 17, 2016. 
  5. ^ "2011 Distinguished Middle and High Schools". California Department of Education. Retrieved May 17, 2016. 
  6. ^