Douglas Anderson School of the Arts

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Douglas Anderson School of the Arts
Dasota logo.jpg
2445 San Diego Road


Coordinates30°18′01″N 81°38′20″W / 30.300271°N 81.638757°W / 30.300271; -81.638757Coordinates: 30°18′01″N 81°38′20″W / 30.300271°N 81.638757°W / 30.300271; -81.638757
TypePublic arts high school
Motto"Where arts and academics meet in excellence"
PrincipalMelanie Hammer
Enrollment1,242[1] (2014-15)
Color(s)Black and White   
WebsiteSchool website

Douglas Anderson School of the Arts (commonly known as "DA" or "DASOTA") is a magnet high school in the San Marco neighborhood of Jacksonville, Florida. The school opened in 1922 as a primary school specifically for African American students. The school is named after local civil rights activist, Douglas Anderson. In 1985, the school was renovated into a magnet high school specializing in performing, visual and language arts.[2] Over the years, the school has accomplished many achievements including becoming a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence[3] and receiving numerous awards from the United States Department of Education, International Network of Schools for the Advancement of Arts Education and the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.[4] Notably, the school lacks any athletic programs.

In December 2009, the school became a Florida Heritage Landmark by the Bureau of Historical Preservation. The ceremony was attended by students and school officials, Anderson's family and the first graduates of the school from 1959.[5]


In 1922, the Duval County Board of Public Instruction opened South Jacksonville School #107, the only public school on the south side of Jacksonville for African-American children in grades one through nine. Spearheading the building of this school were black community leaders Douglas Anderson (1884-1936) and W.R. Thorpe (1893-1967). Anderson, a graduate of Tuskegee Institute, began the first free school bus transportation service for the school and was president of the Parent-Teachers association. In 1945, the school board re-named the school the Douglas Anderson School. It became a high school in 1955 and quickly became an educational and cultural center for African-Americans from communities all over southeastern Duval County. Community involvement was the strength of the school. Even though high school enrollment never exceeded 400-500 students, they achieved prominence in academics, athletics, and the arts far beyond their numbers. Douglas Anderson School closed in 1968 as a result of school desegregation. Afterward, it served as a campus for Florida Junior College, and a 7th grade center. It re-opened in 1985 as the Douglas Anderson School of the Arts.[6]

— Florida Heritage Marker

Opened in 1922 as The South Jacksonville Grammar School for grades 1—9, the school was primarily attended by African American students, the only school in the region during that time. In 1945, the school name changed to Douglas Anderson School. During the 1950s, the school morphed into a high school with the mascot of "Fiery Dragons" and in 1959, the school saw its first graduating class in 1959 with a commencement speech given by Benjamin E. Mays. During the 1960s, the school closed briefly and reopened in 1968 as a campus for Florida Junior College. In 1970, the school closed briefly again and reopened in 1971 as the Douglas Anderson Seventh Grade Center. In 1985, the school opened as Douglas Anderson School of the Arts becoming the only school in the county offering arts education. During its tenure, the school has produced award-winning performances in theatre, dance and music. Many students from the school were featured in major films including Brenda Starr[disambiguation needed], Sunshine State and The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking as well as the short-lived television series Safe Harbor.


The school focuses on providing a standard high-school curriculum along with creative education. Currently, the school offers instrumental music (including piano and guitar), vocal music, creative writing, performance and technical theatre, dance, visual arts and cinematic arts.

Students are accepted to the school based on auditions offered in the winter and spring (and rarely, summer) of each school year. Vocal music, performance theatre, and dance students also have the opportunity to attend a second audition for entrance into the musical theatre program. In addition to excelling in their chosen area of artistic study, students are expected to maintain an average (>2.0) GPA. or face probation and/or eventual expulsion. Also, students can be put on probation for missing over 8 instructional units. Each department features an end of year "jury" wherein a student's contributions to their respective department are assessed and critiqued.

"Extravaganza" is an annual performance event showcasing students' work. It is held at the Times-Union Center for Performing Arts in Jacksonville, FL.

Cinematic arts

The formerly named "Film/TV Department," established in 1997 under the instruction of Lorry Romano, is the newest department in the school. The department originally began as an extension of the Theatre Department. In 2001, it became its own department with only 10 students. Students are educated in all aspects of film making including writing, directing, editing, and cinematography. Each grade level focuses on different specialized projects that require a myriad of skills. The department supports a small number of extracurricular major film projects that act as the flagship pieces in the bi-annual film showcases. Department films have gone on to gain admittance and in some cases awards in national film festivals and the local Jacksonville Film Festival. In 2003, the department was given its own studio featuring a classroom and editing bay. During the time, students would film, produce and edit the "Brain Brawl" competition for WJCT.

Creative writing

The department was opened in 1990 and in 2006 became one of the last to receive its own building (although some departments have yet to receive their own buildings). Students take a variety of classes to learn, in depth, the techniques involved in writing fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction, in addition to philosophy, humanities and literary history, playwriting, and journalism.[7] The Creative Writing department produces a literary magazine, Élan,[8] and the school news magazine, The Artisan.[9] The Creative Writing Department also organizes the school's Homecoming Dance, as well as a Writers' Festival which invites famous writers from around the world to read their works and give workshops to students and local writers. Writers who have attended the Douglas Anderson Writers' Festival include Margaret Atwood, George Saunders, Joyce Carol Oates, Tracy K. Smith, Sarah Kay, Ron Carlson, Richard Blanco, and Billy Merrell.[10]


The Dance department offers many different classes to about 150 students. The two performing groups, Creative Dance Ensemble and Dance Theatre, require an audition to join. Dance majors study every day with a rotating schedule of modern and ballet/pointe classes. The Dance department also offers electives such as Dance Production I and II, Jazz, Dance Career Prep, Research, American Musical Theatre, Dance Aesthetics, Variations, and Ethnic Dance. Also, all dancers are required to complete a Choreography credit during either their Junior or Senior year.

Instrumental and vocal music

Musical instruction is divided into four departments: piano, vocal, orchestra, instrumental—which includes both band and guitar groups. The department was named by the GRAMMY Foundation as a Gold Signature School recipient in 2016[11] and 2008,[12] and ranked number 1 in 2010 and 2012.[13]

The piano department is led by former concert pianist Vera Watson.[14] Piano students are required to study a wide range of music each year and are expected to participate in master classes, where they are critiqued by a guest artist. In the summer of 2013, several piano students attended the Boukobza Academy in France and Belgium.

The guitar department, the smallest, has been directed by Don Casper since its opening. Its guitar ensemble, entitled the Douglas Anderson Guitar Ensemble, opens at a yearly performance called the Great Guitar Gathering at the Florida Theatre. In the department, students take daily classes on classical guitar technique. In the solo classes the repertoire students are graded on is selected by the students from multiple books approved by the director. In the ensemble class, the director assigns pieces for students to rehearse and later perform at the aforementioned concert.[15]

The various groups perform throughout Florida and the nation on a regular basis. In 2006, the DASOTA Jazz Ensemble I, formerly under the direction of Ace Martin, won first place in the Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition and Festival in New York. Now, both Jazz Ensembles are led by Don Zentz.

The vocal department's top group, Chorale Women, performed at the 2011 ACDA (American Choral Director's Association); a National Music Conference in Chicago. They are under the direction of Jeffrey Clayton and currently hold the title of the best high school women's chorus in the nation.

Other honors include the invitation extended to the Symphonic Band to play at the Midwest Band and Orchestra Festival in 1999 under the direction of Tom Haller. The Wind Symphony, under the direction of Shawn Barat, performed at the 2008 MENC National Biennial In-Service Conference in Milwaukee, the 2009 FMEA In-Service Clinic-Conference in Tampa, and the 2011 Music For All National Concert Band Festival in Indianapolis. More recently, the Wind Symphony performed at the 2011 Midwest International Band and Orchestra Clinic in Chicago, IL, and the Chamber Orchestra performed at the same clinic the following year, becoming the first high school string orchestra in Northeast Florida to receive an invitation.

The jazz band was also featured in the award-winning documentary Chops. The film followed the jazz band on their journey to the Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition and Festival starting with their first experience with jazz in middle school, at LaVilla School Of The Arts, and going through winning the competition.[16]

Performance and technical theatre

The Performance and technical theatre department has existed since the school's inception. With a state-of-the-art proscenium theatre, as well as a modern 'black box' theatre, students have all the trappings of a professional theatre. The department averages four shows a year. All theatre students are given a background of general theatrical knowledge, taking classes such as stagecraft, acting, plays and playwrights and theatre history, in addition to more specialized courses like Directing and Voice and Dialect. There is also an audition only acting class, in the style of a BFA program, called Company. It is made of 20 students from the department, with Class 3 being the first class to integrate both performance and musical theatre. The technical theatre department allows students to assist in design, technical direction, and creation of costumes, props, and sets.

Musical Theatre—a more recently added major opportunity—allows students to enter as either a theatre, vocal, or dance student, and integrate the three beginning in the second year. The performing theatre majors and tech majors are expected to prepare juries at the end of each school year that show their growth over the course of the year.

In 2010, the theatre department began to produce a production of Moisés Kaufman's The Laramie Project. The production gained national attention as the infamous religious institution Westboro Baptist Church protested the event. A counter-protest was staged by current students, faculty, and staff along with city officials and alumni of the school. The production went as planned in April 2010.[17]

Visual arts

In this arts area, many students take part in drawing, painting, sculpting, photography, printmaking, and art history. Gallery openings occur throughout the year to showcase the students' talent. There is an annual Senior Show marking the last gallery opening for the outgoing seniors, and in which they are the only contributors, subtracting the underclass work. The program boasts a fully operational and state-of-the-art photo lab, yearly student built installations around campus, and full facilities for printmaking, sculpture and drawing/painting classes.

In 2002, the visual arts curriculum was challenged by one of its former students. During a lesson in sculpture history, a video was shown featuring nude depictions of Indigenous peoples of the Americas. The student's parents pressed the school board to fire the teacher and remove the section from the course. The case was eventually thrown out and the student chose to voluntarily leave the school.

Notable alumni[edit]


  1. ^ "DOUGLAS ANDERSON SCHOOL OF THE ARTS". National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved December 27, 2017.
  2. ^
  3. ^ "Blue Ribbon Schools Program (Archived Information)" (PDF). U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved 2010-10-30.
  4. ^ "The Grammy Foundation announces the 2010 Grammy Signature Schools" (PDF) (Press release). The Grammy Foundation/The Recording Academy. 2010-03-25. Retrieved 2010-10-30.[permanent dead link]
  5. ^ Sanders, Topher (2009-11-14). "Douglas Anderson graduates come back for school's 50th anniversary". The Florida Times-Union. Morris Communications. Retrieved 2010-10-31.
  6. ^ "History of Douglas Anderson #107". Archived from the original on 2013-12-13. Retrieved 2013-12-10.CS1 maint: unfit url (link)
  7. ^ "Creative Writing at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts". D.A. CREATIVE WRITING. Retrieved 2020-01-11.
  8. ^ "Élan". Élan | An International Student Literary Magazine. Douglas Anderson Creative Writing Department.
  9. ^ "Welcome". The Artisan. Douglas Anderson Creative Writing Department.
  10. ^ "Douglas Anderson Writers' Festival – A student literary festival". Retrieved 2020-01-11.
  11. ^ "DA wins Grammy recognition". The Resident Community News Group, Inc. 2016-06-01. Retrieved 2020-10-20.
  12. ^ "2008 Signature Schools Announced". 2014-12-02. Retrieved 2020-10-20.
  13. ^ Stepzinski, Teresa. "Grammy goes to Douglas Anderson". The Florida Times-Union. Retrieved 2020-10-20.
  14. ^ "Department Chairs / Department Chairs" Check |url= value (help). http. Retrieved 2020-10-20.
  15. ^ "Don Casper Interview - Musician & Teacher". Guitars United. 2015-02-16. Retrieved 2020-02-08.
  16. ^ Yurgartis, Jason. "Young jazz students become real musicians in film 'Chops'". The Florida Times-Union. Retrieved 2020-10-20.
  17. ^ "Anti-Gay Group Plans Protest At School". News4Jax. Graham Media Group. 2010-04-12. Retrieved 2020-01-12.