Detroit schools unveil expanded arts partnership

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Detroit — Detroit public schools officials announced Tuesday an expanded arts and music program to establish the Detroit School of Arts as a premier art school in Metro Detroit.

The plan includes the creation of four middle school conservatories at the Detroit Public Schools Community District, which will act as feeder schools to boost enrollment at the Detroit School of Arts. It also includes expanded partnerships with 24 arts and music institutions for students at both DSA and the four middle schools.

Dr. Lisa Reynolds, principal of the Detroit School of Arts, and DPSCD superintendent Nikolai Vitti announce an expanded arts and music partnership on Tuesday.

DPSCD superintendent Nikolai Vitti said the partnerships represent a major investment of resources and expertise into the Detroit School of Arts Pathways Initiative, a movement to position to the Midtown-based high school into a destination school for the performing arts.

"This is the beginning of a process to give our students what they deserve and need as far as a clear pathway to excellence when it comes to the arts," Vitti said. "Talent isn't the issue, it's opportunity."

The four schools that will turn into middle school conservatories this fall are Brenda Scott Academy for Theatre Arts, Duke Ellington Conservatory of Music & Art, John R. King Academic and Performing Arts Academy and Spain Elementary-Middle School.

The middle schools will work with the 24 partnered institutions as well as students and faculty from DSA, school officials said. Each of the middle schools will offer five core art forms: dance, theater, visual arts, instrumental music and vocal music.

Transportation will be provided from the four middle schools to DSA.

Partners in the program include Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Educational Theater Association, the Debbie Allen Dance Academy, the Carr Center, Motown Museum, DIME, Sphinx, Pewabic Pottery, Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit Jazz Festival, Inside Out Literary Arts, Music Hall, and the University of Michigan School of Music, Theater and Dance.

People listen to Vitti announce the expanded arts and music partnership on Tuesday.

Vitti said the district hopes the initiative will boost enrollment at DSA, which has about 470 students but can hold between 700-800 students.

Jill Woodward, director of the Michigan State University Community Music School in Detroit and one of the 24 partners in the program, said her organization has already been working with the district to support teachers and faculty from professional development to grant opportunities to supplies and equipment. 

"We are sending out our teaching artists, our graduate students, and they are going into the music schools and building programs,"  Woodward said. "There are a lot of new teachers so we want to support them with resources and best practices."

DSA student Victoria Grace said she was excited about the decision to focus resources in the middle schools.

"It's a good thing they are having middle schools tie into this because when I came here, I was not prepared," said Grace, a junior who is a vocal major. "Having the middle schools more prepared to come here is great."

The school, originally known as the Detroit High School for the Fine and Performing Arts, requires students to audition to be accepted and declare a major of study, such as dance, theatre or instrumental music.