A well-known D.C. arts high school with ties to GW was slated last month to be moved from its current location, but community opposition to the change is keeping the school where it stands.
Reports circulated last month that The Duke Ellington School of the Arts could be relocated from its current location at 3500 R St. to make room for a strictly public high school, but the city eventually decided against the move. Rory Pullens, principal of the school that marries academics with the arts, attributed part of the reversal to the media and students’ reactions.
“It was the Washington Post, the news media, that really took the lead in terms of [councilmember] Jack Evans’ statements saying that the Ward 2 community wanted a neighborhood school,” he said.
While GW does not support the Ellington School financially, the University supports students at the school in other ways. It donates performance space and “some in-kind services,” said Charles Barber, an attorney in GW’s Office of the General Counsel and president of the Duke Ellington School Board. In addition, some GW professors and students volunteer there, and Pullens spoke at GW’s Interfaith Baccalaureate Ceremony during last year’s Commencement Weekend.
Pullens said the potential move came as a surprise to some.
“We were really not a part of that early planning process. So, this community didn’t know what was going on, because we had never mentioned that we might be moving or that studies were being done.”
When students learned of the possible move, however, they reacted quickly.
“I started a blog and Facebook group protesting against it. I sent an e-mail around with a link to the blog and to the Washington Post article… everyone was talking about it,” said Layla Sharaf, a freshman studying literary media and communications at the Ellington School.
Serene Smith, a senior concentrating in vocal music, also opposed the Ellington School’s proposed move.
“I don’t feel the move is necessary, because this is our home. Who would want to move?” Smith said. “I love this area, and we’ve been here so long – we have so many memories with the school. No one in the school wants to move.”
After the story broke, Pullens and a group of representatives from Duke Ellington met with D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee.
A joint statement was released last week saying, “there are no plans to move the Duke Ellington School of the Arts until it moves into its own state of the art facility.”
One of the signers of the document was Peggy Cooper Cafritz, a GW alumna who co-founded Workshops for Careers in the Arts in 1968, which eventually evolved into the Duke Ellington School for the Arts at Western High School by 1974.
In 2000, Cafritz helped expand the Ellington Fund and D.C. Public School partnership by bringing together GW and The Kennedy Center to create an autonomous Duke Ellington School of the Arts Project.
Pullens said Ellington’s graduation rate is at 98 percent, with 95 percent going on to college. The graduation rate for other D.C. public high schools is about 52 percent, he said.
“The vast majority of students major in art after graduation and go on to make it their career,” Pullens said.