DA honors retiring principal with surprise celebration

DA honors retiring principal with surprise celebration
Many VIP guests attended the surprise student performance at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts in honor of Principal Jackie Cornelius’s retirement. From left, Linda Stein, Betsy Lovett, Barbara Spurlin, Jackie Cornelius, and Lawrence DuBow.

Not only are the students and faculty of Douglas Anderson School of the Arts superb at putting on a show, they are also capable of keeping a secret.

Although DA Principal Jackie Cornelius had declared she wanted little fanfare as she approached her upcoming retirement in mid-April, students and faculty moved her to tears by showcasing their talents during a surprise hour-long performance in her honor April 13.

“I’m speechless,” said the San Marco resident. “They promised me they were not going to do anything. I told them I didn’t want a big to-do.”

Serving the Duval County Public School System for 47 years, Cornelius began as an English teacher and Dean of Students at what is now Westside High School, only to finish her last 29 years at Douglas Anderson, first as its arts director and vice principal, and then as principal, having been handpicked in 1996 by her good friend and mentor, former DA Principal Jane Condon.

In her 21 years at the helm, Cornelius enlarged upon Condon’s vision, taking DA, an arts magnet patterned after the Houston High School of the Performing and Visual Arts, to the next level and in the process gaining national respect from the arts community.

Under her tutelage, Douglas Anderson has received countless awards, including recognition as a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence, a National Model School, a National Leader School by the U.S. Department of Education and as one of the Best Academic High Schools in the country by Newsweek magazine.

During her tenure, Cornelius also helped establish the Douglas Anderson School of the Arts Foundation, which she intends to continue to serve as executive director during her retirement. The Foundation assists the public magnet school by raising money to support its programs and the needs of individual students so they can realize their full potential as artists.

She also oversaw two expansions of the campus, including a new academic wing, finished in 2015, which houses 20 academic classrooms, four state-of-the-art science labs, musical theatre and dance specialty classrooms, a lighting and costume shop, a cafeteria, and a 500-seat amphitheater.

For her work in supporting the school and the arts in the greater Jacksonville community, Cornelius has received countless recognitions. She was the Eve Award recipient in 2002, and has also earned the Florida 200 Leadership Award/Arts for a Complete Education; the National Technology Excellence Award from Highwired.com and the National Secondary Principals’ Association; the National Service Learning Award from the U.S. Department of Education; Outstanding Arts Educator Award from the Jacksonville Arts Assembly; Woman of Distinction Award from the Gateway Girl Scout Council; Women of the Year from River City BPW; and the Excellence Award for Most Outstanding Drug Education from the Florida Commissioner of Education.

Upon her arrival at the DuBow Theatre April 13, Cornelius was met with a standing ovation from students and faculty, as well as VIP guests including Lawrence DuBow and Linda Stein, both of San Jose, and Helen Lane and Betsy Lovett, both of Ortega, among others.

“I just think the entire inspiration for all this is Jackie,” said Lovett. “It’s her personality, it’s her love of the students and the sort of genuine applause she gives them without just clapping. They sense this wonderful inspiration from her. She inspires me.”

Calling the show Cornelius’ “commencement ceremony,” Mistress of Ceremonies Simone Aden, an English and theatre teacher at the school, kicked off the farewell tribute with a short film where DA faculty members shared heartfelt feelings and memories about her tenure, such as “She was always one to see the big picture and rush toward it.”

After the film, the audience was wowed with performances by DA’s award-winning Jazz Ensemble as well students performing modern dance, guitar, orchestra, piano, ballet, and vocals.

Former student James Boyd, who is currently an artist in residence at Jacksonville University, spoke during the event as did Condon and Deborah Knauer, chairman of the School Advisory Committee. Cornelius was presented with a huge bouquet of flowers courtesy of Lovett as well as a large metal wall sculpture created by Kue King, a former student, which was commissioned by faculty members and friends.

Afterwards Cornelius said she was overwhelmed by the event. “I look forward to continuing my support of the school by working with community leaders and expanding the city’s awareness of our wonderful program,” she said.

“My goal is to have it so when people in the community speak about how great our city is, they will, of course, talk about the beautiful St. Johns River, our incredible museums – The Cummer and MOCA – our football team and our zoo. But we will know we have arrived when they say, ‘We also have this incredible school of the arts, modeled after the one in Houston, that provides all students that audition and are serious about intensive arts study, with the experience and skills to be competitive in the world,’” she continued. “I’m most proud that this school provides its students, many of whom would never otherwise have been able to have this kind of experience, with what is necessary to become tomorrow’s artists.”

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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