Ellington principal: "We will not stand idly by"
Duke Ellington head of school Rory L. Pullens hasn't returned my e-mails or phone messages to discuss the possible relocation of the Georgetown arts school, described Sunday in The Post. But he and members of the school's governing board, the Duke Ellington School of the Arts Project (DESAP), which met Tuesday, have plenty to say to the Fenty Administration, the D.C. Council and Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee.
Here's what Pullens sent home to parents Wednesday:
"I am sure that many of you are well aware of the newspaper article that ran in last Sunday's Washington Post about the possible relocation of Duke Ellington. We, as an institution, will not idly stand by while such plans are taking place and not have our voices be heard! I met with our governing DESAP Board on Jan. 19, and among the many strategies we are employing, is the attached letter to Mayor Fenty, Chancellor Rhee, City Council, and others. This presents our official response and expectations of resolution. I will keep you posted on future developments in this most critical matter. Thank you for all your support today, and that support which may be needed in the future."
And here's the letter, signed by DESAP board president Michaele Christian:
"Dear Ms. Rhee:
I write on behalf of the Board of Directors of Duke Ellington School of the Arts Project, as well as the entire school community, to tell you that we were appalled by recent reports of a well developed proposal to move Ellington to a new location from its home at 3500 R Street, NW. Such a move, particularly to a facility as woefully inadequate as the suggested new site of Logan School, would eviscerate one of the most outstanding educational institutions in the District. It is shocking to us that the board of the school was not deeply engaged in even preliminary discussions, much less a fully developed plan, of such consequence to the future of the school, its students, and the entire Ellington community. Once again, we find ourselves distracted from the task at hand, creating the highest quality education that we can provide to our students, by politics and innuendo. We urge you and other District officials to recognize that Ellington's contribution to the education of a generation of talented students, as well as its tremendous success, in the face of continuing obstacles, in managing a dual curriculum of college preparatory academics and pre-professional arts instruction for its current student population of nearly 500, and to work with us, not against us, to create a world-class program.
Those who believe that Ellington can simply be moved to any other building do not understand the needs of a comprehensive arts high school. In addition to a college preparatory academic program, Ellington offers a wide variety of performing and visual arts programs that have special space needs. Since its inception, Ellington has worked within the current building structure to reach a point where, although it is certainly not perfect, does provide many of the facilities Ellington requires. Indeed, in the last five years, Ellington - together with its partners the Kennedy Center, The George Washington University, and many individual and corporate donors - has donated approximately $700,000 in funds and in-kind contributions to create such venues as a recording studio, a television studio, a professionally equipped theater, and a gallery to accommodate visual art works and the only high school museum studies program in the country. DCPS has also invested in Ellington, as a performing arts high school, by spending substantial sums to renovate high quality dance studios and other performance venues. Such facilities cannot be found in any other high school in the city.
If Ellington were to relocate, it should only be to a building that truly addresses the requirements of a school with Ellington's unique mission. These requirements would include:
-A safe location in which the school can safely operate a program that starts early and regularly involves student practice and rehearsals into the late night hours and weekends;
-A fully equipped performing arts theatre (not simply a school auditorium) with space for both rehearsal and technical design and production of major theatrical events, along with a black box theatre space and music recital hall;
-Several high quality dance studios;
-Several visual arts studios for both 2D and 3D art, graphic design and animation capabilities;
-A variety of large and small settings for vocal and instrumental music classes and practice rooms, insulated to keep sound from traveling;
-A full service audio recording studio and television production studio;
-A gallery for the exhibition of fine arts.
An example of such a facility is the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, a performing arts high school in New York City recently built at a cost of approximately $78 million.
In addition, basic non-instructional operations costs including those for security, maintenance, cleaning and transportation to our partner institutions (George Washington University and the Kennedy Center) would increase with any move. As you know, our budget has not kept pace with our costs, to the point that we had to furlough teachers and staff this year. We are very concerned about the potential threat to our core curriculum that such additional costs would pose.
If the District cannot afford to build a new facility, then Ellington should remain in its present location and the District should proceed with the major renovation scheduled for 2012 to make this building an even better performing arts high school.
In stark contrast to a facility that would serve Ellington's needs is the Logan School, an elementary school built in 1935 whose sole qualification is its vacancy. Logan has none of the requirements listed above for a performing arts high school. While Logan could likely be renovated for purposes suitable to a school with only an academic program, no amount of renovation can change its location and structural deficiencies that make it unsuitable for a school with an arts and academic mission. In short, Logan is simply unacceptable. Ellington has a long history in its current location. It has successfully attracted students from all of the city's wards and, indeed, has had record applications in the past two years, including large numbers of students from outside D.C. public schools, and even the city.
In closing, as you might imagine, the entire Ellington community is now in complete upheaval over these recent events. The DESAP board would like to have an urgent meeting with you and other relevant city officials to discuss this nascent plan, and would also request that you meet with our parents and staff soon thereafter. The DESAP board will attempt to make itself available at a time of your choosing over the next few days. Please let us know which other city officials you feel should be present. In the press, Mayor Fenty and Jack Evans have been identified as participants in this planning, though of course Ellington is a citywide school and others will undoubtedly want to be involved. Meaningful engagement with Ellington on this critical issue has been lacking to date. The location of Duke Ellington School of the Arts and its facilities are far too important not to be addressed in a thorough and deliberative manner, and the involvement of those who know how to operate a performing arts high school with a full academic curriculum is essential. Please let us know how to proceed to schedule these meetings as soon as possible so that we can all get back to educating our students.
Michaele C Christian, M.D.
On behalf of the DESAP Board of Directors
cc: Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton
Mayor Adrian Fenty
Council Chairman Vincent Gray
Councilmember Jack Evans
Councilmember Yvette Alexander
Councilmember Marion Barry
Councilmember Muriel Bowser
Councilmember Kwame R. Brown
Councilmember Michael A. Brown
Councilmember David Catania
Councilmember Mary M. Cheh
Councilmember Jim Graham
Councilmember Phil Mendelson
Councilmember Harry Thomas, Jr.
Councilmember Tommy Wells
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