An Artistic Self-Portrait Douglas Anderson Evaluates Past, Looks to Future
Weightman, Sharon, The Florida Times Union
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
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
"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
Those 10 years contained many achievements, as well as some
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
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.
That's because, after a number of years with about 500
students, there are now almost 900 young people on the San Diego
Road campus, studying theater, dance, creative writing, visual
arts, vocal music and instrumental music.
Originally built in 1922, the school served African-American
students until 1968, when it was leased by Florida Community
College at Jacksonville. Later the school was used as a
seventh-grade center before a few modest renovations turned it
into an arts school.
So, not only is Douglas Anderson crowded, it's competitive --
even more than it was a decade ago.
You have to audition before the arts faculty with different
requirements for each department -- for example, a visual artist
must bring a portfolio of past work, do an on-site still-life
drawing, write a critique of a masterwork and be interviewed,
and a theater student must perform both a memorized monologue
Where once enthusiasm and commitment were enough to get you
admitted, now requirement are more stringent, especially after
the freshman year.
"It's tougher to get in -- the level of expectation has risen,"
Cornelius confirmed. "What we look for in first-year students is
a passion for one of the arts, someone who wants a lot of
challenging classes in the arts in addition to the academics."
Lee Beger, director of the theater department, agrees.
"We still look for ninth-graders with an absolute need to be
here, to be doing theater or dance or art, but anybody past
ninth grade really does need to have some skills to get in,"
Once students do get in, though, they're pretty happy there --
and so are their parents.
They get a four-year intensive arts program that enables them,
as seniors, to have a competitive portfolio or audition prepared
for colleges or conservatories.
That program is far more comprehensive than it was a decade
ago, with coursework in choreography, directing, play analysis,
photography, theater movement, creative writing and other
college-level courses -- in fact, many courses are
"dualenrollment," with credits earned simultaneously at Douglas
Anderson and Florida Community College at Jacksonville.
According to the survey, 92 percent of parents said that for
the most part, they are satisfied with the school.
Students and parents expressed a high degree of satisfaction
with the quality of the arts programs, the quality of the
academic programs, an environment that's safe and orderly, and a
feeling that parents are welcome.
WHAT NEEDS WORK
But some students are unhappy with a lack of non-arts
extracurricular activities and sports, and not enough career and
Teachers -- 95 percent of them -- are also satisfied with the
school. Most of them believe that students work hard in their
arts classes, that the administration supports the faculty and
that teachers care about their students.
"We have a lot of Ph.Ds on our faculty that stay here when they
could be teaching at colleges because they have ownership of
their programs, they feel that this is their baby and that
they're supported in doing what matters for kids," Cornelius
What teachers see as problems are large classes and inadequate
facilities. They agree with students that there's not enough
career counseling, even though almost every teacher spends many
after-school hours trying to help students in that area.
LIFE AFTER HIGH SCHOOL
In spite of the need to improve planning for college, Douglas
Anderson students have been increasingly successful in getting
into good schools.
Eighty-seven percent of graduating seniors attend
post-secondary colleges and universities, including the
Juilliard School, Cooper Union School of Art, Rochester
Institute of Technology, Parsons School of Design, Smith
College, California Institute of Arts, Cleveland Art Institute,
Sarah Lawrence College, Florida State University, the University
of Florida and many others. (See accompanying student profiles).
That doesn't mean they all turn pro, though.
"Only 20 percent of our students hope to become professional
artists, but the arts will teach them all discipline as well as
immersing them in high-level thinking skills," Cornelius said.
What students can't seem to do, though, is stay away.
They come back and teach in the summer arts programs; they come
back and teach "master classes," they come back and talk to
younger students in their fields.
"I love it when they come back," Beger said, sitting in an
office wallpapered with photographs of former students. "It's
great for kids here to see there's life after high school,
there's success out there.
"We teach kids to have a vision, and even if they come back as
anthropologists instead of artists, even if the vision changes,
it still shows what the arts can do."
THE NEXT DECADE
Cornelius loves to see former students on campus, too. In fact,
it's what she most looks forward to in the next decade.
Yes, she wants more classroom space, more counselors, more
But what makes her go to work every day is something more
"Whenever I give someone a tour of the campus and they say,
`How lovely that you have this job,' I have to laugh a little,"
"This school didn't just happen. We sweat blood. We work, we
cry, we eat, drink and sleep this job; we walk out of here at 10
p.m. four nights a week," she said.
"But then we see our kids succeed and our hearts blossom," she
added. "We think, `We're a part of something worthwhile.' "
GRADS GIVE ANDERSON HIGH MARKS
Felisha Norman, Class of 1990 Since graduation: AA from
State University's prestigious theater conservatory program; now
beginning studies for MFA in theater at Northern Illinois
Looking back: "Once I went to DA, I became a much happier
person. Yes, I was hyper and I tried to do too much, but I was
in love with learning."
"At first you couldn't get me onstage and if I had to sing I'd
stand in the back row. Now I've worked as a professional singer.
The best thing Dr. [Lee] Beger ever did was cast me in Wiley and
the Hairy Man. It started my transformation, mapped the road I
was going to take.
"Douglas Anderson was almost a home to me. Those were the
happiest five years of my life. I actually contemplated failing
French so I could stay another year. Then Dr. Beger took me into
her office and sat me down and said, `College, Felisha,
Looking forward: Wants to act professionally and teach the
Meisner method of acting. "I love acting, but I know now that
teaching is my passion."
Augusto Arbizo, Class of 1991
Since graduation: Graduated in 1995 from Cooper Union School of
Art, New York; in May 1997, will finish his MFA in painting and
curatorial studies at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Looking
back: "Going to Douglas Anderson was the experience that's
brought me to this point. The faculty were practicing artists
and all my peers were interested in the same things I was.
"I was really encouraged to be self-motivated, to initiate my
own projects and follow them through. It was an environment that
was open and supportive at the same time.
"When I left there, I knew my teachers would still be thinking
about me and I would be thinking about them. It was less a
teacher/student relationship than a mentor relationship."
Looking forward: Has a job lined up as assistant curator at
Jeanne Greenberg Art Advisory in New York when he graduates.
"Ultimately I will always be painting but as a career, I'll
focus on curatorial work."
Alex Mincek, Class of 1993
Since graduation: Two years at the University of North Florida;
now a senior at Manhattan School of Music, New York.
Looking back: "The school made everything available to students
but it was up to you whether you took advantage of it or not.
There wasn't anything I wished I had but couldn't get there.
"We were required to audition for competitions, so you learned
how you stood, what you needed to do.
"I went to summer programs here at Manhattan and knew all along
that I wanted to go here, but I didn't want to go to New York
right out of high school. I also wanted to spend a few years at
UNF so I could study with Bunky Green -- in the jazz community,
he's a superstar.
"I have no doubt that I was a trial, a thorn in the side of
some of my teachers at Douglas Anderson. I practiced hard, but
there was an attitude thing, conceit. You can't be conceited
here in New York -- there's nothing to be conceited about. Even
if you really were the best at whatever you do, nobody cares --
everybody's seen everything and it's not a big deal at all.
"I'm a lot more serious now and a lot more realistic too."
Looking forward: Wants to play jazz professionally, compose,
and teach at the college level -- "I wouldn't have the patience
to teach someone who was like I was in high school!"
Wendi Rohan, Class of 1992
Since graduation: Graduated from the University of Cincinnati
Conservatory of Music in May 1996; now living in New York,
studying with Craig Cornelius and auditioning for theater.
Looking back: "When I got to Cincinnati, a lot of people were
trying to grow up more as individuals, but I'd already done that
-- everyone who went to Douglas Anderson had already had the
chance to find themselves as individuals.
"On the other hand, theater was my life in high school -- too
much so. Sometimes we may have focused too hard on the career
aspect instead of just the art form. And people change what they
want as a career about eight times growing up, so if they've
only focused on one thing, they might not know what to do with
"I'm more well-rounded now; I actually have hobbies."
Looking forward: Musical theater but possibly a switch later.
"I really enjoy the business end of theater and I'm thinking
more about that, maybe casting."
Deanna Mullis, Valedictorian, Class of 1994
Since graduation: One semester at Hofstra University; recruited
to dance professionally for Donald Byrd/The Group; now dances
with Complexions, A Concept in Dance and recently toured Italy;
came back to Douglas Anderson this spring to teach a master
Looking back: "I've always been a perfectionist and DA allowed
me to succeed. I learned a lot about being multi-faceted -- I
could flourish in calculus then go to dance class.
"Most people don't go on to be professional artists, but they
do need to be well-rounded, to learn to deal with all sorts of
people. And at DA, you learn to communicate with each other
because you're bonded by dedication to something."
Looking forward: Wants to dance professionally for a few
years, then return to college.
"It's a hard life -- touring sounds so glamorous, but in
reality it's a lot of work. Still, I feel very blessed. As long
as I don't go to another college, Hofstra will hold a full
scholarship for me. I call them all the time to make sure it's
Gary T. Clark/staff
1. Students have lunch near a metal sculpture on the grounds at
Douglas Anderson School of the Arts.
2. Walter Nicholson, 15, (left) and Kyle Younger, 14, work with
Ken Hatcher, their art class instructor.
3. Jim Albert, Nicole Warren (center) and Brook Ratti, all 15,
rehearse for a parody performance in an English Honors class at
Photos: (B/W) mugs Norman, Rohan, Mincek, Arbizo, Mullis…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: An Artistic Self-Portrait Douglas Anderson Evaluates Past, Looks to Future. Contributors: Weightman, Sharon - Author. Newspaper title: The Florida Times Union. Publication date: October 27, 1996. Page number: Not available. © 2007 The Florida Times-Union. COPYRIGHT 1996 Gale Group.
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