Santa Barbara High VADA Program Receives $2.2M Grant for New Building

Source: Santa Barbara Unified School District [original article]

architectural rendering of the proposed building

The Visual Arts & Design Academy (VADA) at Santa Barbara High School [Tuesday] announced that it has been awarded $2.2 million from the California Department of Education’s Career Technical Education Facilities Program (CTEFP) towards the construction of a new building optimized for the specialized education and training offered by VADA. The grant is a major advancement in the funding needed to replace outdated portables with a modern, purpose-built facility. 

“This is a huge milestone for the school because these new funds allow us to break ground on a new building, which will begin our phased facility modernization project”, said Daniel Barnett, program director and art instructor of VADA. “Our goal is to make an environment that will inspire students to learn and create. This new building is designed to mirror the standards of colleges, design firms, and creative businesses, helping to prepare our students for their professional lives. I’m so proud that, by being awarded this highly competitive state grant, we’re bringing millions of, otherwise inaccessible, dollars back to our local school site.”  

The Santa Barbara Unified School District has supported the initiative with a nearly $1.2 million commitment from Measure I 2016 Bond funds designated for the replacement of two portable classrooms, leveraging Career Tech Ed grant funds to finance a much more impactful project. VADA has also raised more than $1.3 million from an anonymous angel donor and the generosity of Lillian and Jon Lovelace. With the state grant, VADA has now raised $4.7 million of a total $6.5 million capital budget goal prior to even launching the public support campaign, which will begin in Spring 2021.

architectural rendering of the new building

VADA anticipates breaking ground on the new facility in the second half of 2021, with the new doors opening in the first half of 2023. Learn more at

VADA’s mission is to enable students to achieve their highest potential and professional readiness by cultivating today’s most sought after job skills. Complex problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration, emotional intelligence, and cognitive flexibility are all purposefully developed within the VADA curriculum.  The program combines art and design education with rigorous academic learning, including Dual Enrollment, AP and Honors level coursework. 

“VADA is a truly special program, not only in its focus and approach to academic education, but in the demographics of the students that are part of the academy,” said Elise Simmons, Ed.D, principal of Santa Barbara High School. “Each year, between 40-50% of the incoming class meet the state’s at-risk criteria outlined by California Partnership Academy (CPA) guidelines and the program’s ethnic and socio-economic diversity mirrors the population of Santa Barbara High School. VADA provides equitable access to education and training that is unlike anything else in the community.

Superintendent Hilda Maldonado added: “I’m so impressed with the variety of program choices that SBUnified offers to students. Our students deserve the best programs, experiences and learning opportunities - 21st Century learners require 21st Century facilities and spaces. This grant will help us achieve that!” 

New Home for VADA Needed
To fully reach its mission of enabling students to achieve their highest potential and professional readiness in our  21st century world, VADA needs new, modernized facilities. The program’s current buildings are about 50 years old and lack the flexibility and space to support the innovative curricula.  The goal is to double instructional space with a new building while also taking a flexible approach to classroom design and provide designated focus spaces and integrated exhibition area. Improvements will also be made to existing buildings to enhance VADA’s academic and creative programming so all students are flourishing in a state of the art campus.

Integration of Art, Design, and Academics Sets VADA Apart
VADA students benefit from a unique combination of classes that teach them fundamental art and design skills in concert with traditional academic coursework. The art and design classes cover painting, drawing, digital art and photography. Core academic curriculum is strengthened with assignments that include artistic aspects, which helps increase student engagement and understanding of the subject matter. Additionally, VADA students complete design thinking and marketing projects, often with supplemental instruction from industry experts. Specific career and professional skills are integrated into the curriculum throughout the course sequence and students participate in internships to practice skills in a real-world setting.

Established in 1999, the Visual Arts & Design Academy (VADA) is a small learning community at Santa Barbara High School with about 225 students in 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th grade. VADA is a unique “school-within-a-school” that integrates rigorous academic coursework with project-based, career-focused art and design instruction, in a supportive and creative environment. Since its founding, VADA has served more than 1,200 high school students. 

As a California Partnership Academy, and Career Technical Education Pathway,VADA has always been funded by a renewable  three-way matching grant from the California Department of Education, the Santa Barbara Unified School District, and the Friends of VADA, a 501 c(3) nonprofit organization. Private donations are critical for sustaining and enriching the program, funding a variety of essential elements including supplies, technology and equipment upgrades, staff training, and experiential learning opportunities for the students. 

VADA was one of 178 programs, among 248 applications, awarded a grant from California Department of Education’s Career Technical Education Facilities Program (CTEFP) in September 2020. In June 2019, the State Allocation Board (Board) approved $250 million, plus any remaining available funds, for the sixth funding cycle of CTEFP as a result of the passage of the Kindergarten through Community College Public Education Facilities Bond Act of 2016 (Proposition 51). All projects are funded on a 50/50 state and local share basis. A financial contribution toward the cost of the CTEFP project must be equal to the state’s grant.