Greetings from Ellington School

By Desepe DeVargas,

I am the interim head of school for the Duke Ellington School of the Arts (DESA). I come into this role to continue the work begun this school year by Father John Payne who passed away unexpectedly on October 9, 2014. I am excited and honored to serve in this role supporting the students, faculty, staff, and alumni while advancing the DESA’s mission and vision of providing a rigorous academic curriculum and pre-professional arts program.


As you know, the Ellington School has relocated while our building undergoes much needed modernization. We are temporarily housed in two locations: the Meyer Elementary School building at 2501 11th Street NW for the academic classes in the morning and the Garnet-Patterson Middle School building at 2001 10th Street NW for the arts classes in the afternoon. Our students travel by shuttle bus between the two buildings.

Our exemplary Ellington students have received accolades for their multiple performances and demonstrations of their creativity around the city, including the following this year:

March. Earlier this month students from the Dance and Literary Media & Communications Departments performed at Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage.

February. Hope Boykin and Daniel Harder, members of the renowned Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, visited Ellington to conduct energetic and inspiring master classes for our students. The company’s continued contribution to the education of Ellington students is instrumental to their success and development as professional dancers. Two Ellington graduates, Samantha Figgins and Michael Jackson Jr., are current members of the dance company.

Dance students also attended a panel discussion with Alvin Ailey artistic director Robert Battle, rehearsal director Matthew Rushing, and company members Hope Boykin (current) and Renee Robinson (retired), moderated by Charles Augins, chairperson of the Dance Department, at the Meyer building. This was an invaluable opportunity for our dancers to learn more about the Company’s repertoire and rehearsal process. The master classes, panel discussion, and chance to see the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater perform at the Kennedy Center were all possible thanks to our partnership with the Kennedy Center Education Department.

The Literary Media & Communications Department presented a student showcase, American Innocents: An Alternate Black History, at the Sumner School. Students opened their hearts as they shared their art through poetry, prose, and digital media  and performed to a packed house of parents, teachers, students, and community members.

January. The Many Moods of Ellington performance at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage featured three exemplary ensembles—The Mellow Tones, The Dukes of Ellington, and Sophisticated Ladies—led by Mark Meadows, Steven M. Allen, and Sylvia Twine, respectively.

Along with 19 other high school teams across the Washington metropolitan area, DESA students are participating in the Aspen Institute Challenge. Launched by the Aspen Institute and the Bezos Family Foundation, the program is designed to provide a platform, inspiration, and tools for young people to design solutions to some of the most critical and complicated socio-economic problems today. DESA’s Radical Elite marching band provided the musical entertainment for the January  kick-off event at the U.S. Institute of Peace. Three winning teams will receive an all-expenses paid trip to the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado this summer to present their winning proposals to an audience of leaders from all walks of life, from all over the world. Michele Baskin and Cameron Van Patterson are the faculty/staff sponsors.

Please connect with us on our school website——for further information and details about upcoming shows and events. Additionally, I would be happy to hear from you and to continue the rich partnership that we have with the Burleith community. Feel free to email me at