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. …