Douglas Anderson School of the Arts

Douglas Anderson School of the Arts
Douglas Anderson School of the Arts
Dasota logo.jpg
2445 San Diego Road
Jacksonville, Florida, USA 32207

Type Public arts high school
Motto "Where arts and academics meet in excellence"
Established 1922
Principal Jackie Cornelius (1988—present)
Grades 9—12
Enrolment 1,170 (as of October 2010)[1]
Color(s) Black & White          
Nickname DASOTA or DA

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 the 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. Over the years, the school has accomplished many achievements including becoming a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence[2] 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.[3]

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.[4]



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.

—Florida Heritage Marker

Opening 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 50's, 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 Dr. Benjamin E. Mays. During the 60's, 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 produce award-winning performances in theatre, dance and music. Many students from the school were featured in major films including Brenda Starr, Sunshine State and The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking as well as the short-lived television series, "Safr Harbor".

Douglas Anderson

Douglas Anderson was born in Jacksonville, Florida on March 7, 1884. Although both his parents were African American, Anderson was very fair skinned, resembling a Caucasian. Anderson attended the Tuskegee University for carpentry. While attending school, Anderson met Ethel Stevens and the two married in 1906. Two years later, they had a daughter named Mary Gwendolyn Anderson—who attended the South Jacksonville Grammar School. During his daughter's tenure, Anderson became PTA president. In the city, Anderson was a respected civil rights activist. Because of his fair complexion, Anderson was able to attend local Ku Klux Klan meetings and was able to tell the community of their plans. Because of segregation, many African American students had no transportation to school. Anderson purchased a standard school bus and provide way for these students to get back and forth to school. His efforts later lead to providing free and/or public transpiration for black students. Anderson passed away in December 1936; nine years later, the South Jacksonville Grammar School was named in his honor.


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 spring (and often the 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 event at the school to showcase student's work.

Creative Writing

The department was opened in 1990 and in 2006 became one of the last to receive its own building. The Creative Writing department produces a literary magazine, Elan, and the school newspaper The Improviser. For a short while the journalism classes also produced a magazine, titled Segue.

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 such as 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.


The Dance department offers many different classes to about 150 students. The two performing groups, Tap Ensemble and Dance Theatre, require an audition to join. Dance majors study everyday 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, guitar, vocal and instrumental—which includes both band and orchestral groups. As a whole, the music classes were named a Gold School and ranked number 2 in the nation by the Grammy Foundation in 2008, and number 1 in 2010.

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

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 were/are under the direction of Jeffrey Clayton. They 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.

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.

Performance and technical theatre

The Performance and technical theatre department has existed since the school's inception. With a state-of-the-art 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, including a children's show, a musical or Shakespearean play, and a contemporary piece. 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. The tech 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.[5]

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.

Awards and achievements

Year Award Organization Notes
Florida Five Star School Florida Department of Education
National Service Learning Leader School U.S. Department of Education
1998 Presidential Scholars in the Arts U.S. Department of Education Received a total of 4 awards. One was given to Tony Award nominee Daniel Breaker
2000 Best Academic High Schools Newsweek Magazine Also awarded in 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008
2000—2006 National Signature School Grammy Foundation Received award seven consecutive years in a row
2001—2002 National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence U.S Department of Education Received award two consecutive years in a row
2001—2008 A+ School Florida Department of Education Received award eight consecutive years in a row
2005—2006 National Leader School International Center for Leadership Education Received the award twice, once in 2005 and again in 2006
2006 Competition Winner Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition and Festival The school participated in the event in 2004, 2006 and 2008 but only won once
2007 Community Partnership Award International Network of Schools for the Advancement of Arts Education Received award along with the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens and the Clara White Mission
Exemplary School Award
Arts Innovation Award
2007—2008 National Gold Grammy Signature School Grammy Foundation Received the award twice, once in 2007 and again in 2008
2007—2010 Florida Music Demonstration School Florida Department of Education & Florida Music Educators’ Association Received the award four times, once in 2007, 2008, 2009 and again in 2010


Notable alumni


Coordinates: 30°18′01″N 81°38′20″W / 30.300271°N 81.638757°W / 30.300271; -81.638757

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