An Artistic Self-Portrait Douglas Anderson Evaluates Past, Looks to Future

Article excerpt

When Felisha Norman showed up at Douglas Anderson School of the

Arts in 1985, she was an awkward eighth-grader who thought that

the right place for her was backstage, not centerstage.

Douglas Anderson, in its first year as an arts high school, was

young and awkward, too.

The curriculum was limited and so was performance space -- in

fact, parents had to transform an old auto mechanic shop into a

makeshift 50-seat theater with a stage the size of a postage

stamp.

But a lot can change in 10 years.

Now Norman is a tall, graceful young woman who radiates joy and

confidence in her abilities. A graduate of Florida State

University's prestigious conservatory program, she's now

beginning work on a master's in theater -- on her way to a

career of acting, singing and teaching.

And Douglas Anderson, after 10 years, has grown to almost 900

students and has a broad curriculum including upper-level arts

classes and Advance Placement academic courses, two almost-new

theaters and one brand-new principal.

LOOKING BACK, LOOKING FORWARD

At the end of its first decade, the school is taking a long look

at its past and its future.

As part of the 10-year reaccreditation process for the Southern

Association of Colleges and Schools, Douglas Anderson is halfway

through a year-long process of self-evaluation, beginning with a

survey of students, parents, and teachers.

The second half of the year will be spent using the survey

results to come up with specific goals and objectives for the

future.

"We need to find out where we are now and what we could do

better," former principal Jane Condon said in a phone interview

from her home.

Condon, who led the school for nine of its 10 years, retired

last month.

Those 10 years contained many achievements, as well as some

controversy.

According to faculty members present in the beginning, the idea

for an arts high school came from Mary Frances Whittaker, a

principal who had visited similar schools in New York and

Baltimore.

Whittaker convinced Herb Sang -- then the county's school

superintendent -- to propose the establishment of an arts school

and was chosen as its first principal.

But when Sang visited the school in its first year, he was

disturbed by the appearance and behavior of some students (one

dare to call him "Herb") and replaced Whittaker with Condon.

But the school's students, regardless of unorthodox outfits or

hairstyles, went on to win honors in dozens of national arts

contests, including eight national winners in the Arts

Recognition Talent Search.

Condon, who was known for attending every after-school arts

event the school sponsored, is succeeded by Jackie Cornelius,

who directed the school's curriculum for eight years.

"It's a natural transition -- we're in the process of change

all the time," Condon said."Jackie has the strengths to take the

school to the next place it needs to go."

IF YOU BUILD IT

According to the survey results, just tabulated two weeks ago,

that "place" needs to be bigger.

"We are filled to capacity -- we do not have a single classroom

that's not used every period," Cornelius said. "Every closet,

every hallway, under the trees -- we're looking at locker room

space to convert to classrooms."

And this cramped feeling is in spite of a three-year-old

theater addition with 625-seat main stage and a 90-seat studio

theater, and current renovations to make the library and other

facilities accessible to students with disabilities. …