THE D.C. PUBLIC school system's attempt to run a successful school for the performing arts began exactly 10 years ago with many unanswered questions. Could a school designed to enrich fine young artistic talent find enough to work here? Could it be proven that the time of its students was not better spent striving for purely academic goals? Would the next rung on a most arduous ladder -- the country's finest, collegiate-level music, dance, drama and design programs -- ever take it seriously? The answer to each of those questions appears to be yes. The Duke Ellington School for the Performing Arts deserves a round of applause.
Walk into the school and you will see a professionally styled theater, not an auditorium. The productions, whether an ambitious effort to put on Studs Terkel's "Working" or an evening of Schubert, Handel and Bach, have a serious air as well. Graduating senior Terace Jones is a good example of what has resulted. Mr. Jones spent his mornings at Ellington taking all of the academic courses required at regular D.C. high schools. He spent four hours there each afternoon, and some Sundays as well, taking dance classes. Mr. Jones has been accepted into the American Ballet Theatre, the Alvin Ailey Dance Center, the Dance Theatre of Harlem, and the Washington Ballet Theatre. Mr. Jones "had a great deal of raw talent," said a codirector of D.C. Danceworks who watched his Ailey audition. "Ellington can take a lot of credit for helping him develop it."
Mr. Jones does not appear to be the exception of his class. Ellington's principal says that all eight of the seniors in the dance program were accepted by the Ailey dance center. Several other Ellington graduates are heading off to such places as the Juilliard School, the Chicago Institute of Art, the Peabody Conservatory of Music, the Parsons School of Design, Carnegie-Mellon University, the School for Performing Arts in New York, the Pratt Institute of Arts and the Philadelphia College of Performing Arts. The 81 graduates earned a total of $400,000 in scholarships. There are obviously no assurances that any of these graduates will go on to become luminaries. But Ellington seems to be giving them a fine chance to compete while making sure its students don't neglect their academic training.