The first of its kind in Douglas County, the new Parker Performing Arts School opens its doors to 850 students
Left: Jennifer Burgess, Principal of the Parker Performing Arts School
PARKER—What started out as an idea for a new arts-oriented school four years ago by a small group of parents is finally becoming a reality this Monday, as 850 students begin their first day at the new Parker Performing Arts School (PPA).
The K-8 charter school, the first of its kind in Douglas County, is structured so students spend half of the day in academic classes with the other half of the day focused on a rotation of six performing arts disciplines: dance and tumbling, instrumental music, vocal music, general music, visual arts and theatre.
While plans for the new school have been in the works for several years, the charter application was just filed with Douglas County School District (DCSD) staff and approved by the Board of Education last year.
“They submitted an exemplary application, truly one of the best I’ve read,” said Tom McMillen, DCSD Director of Choice Programming. “It was nice to read detail like what a day in the life of a Parker Performing Arts School student would look like. The school plans were very well thought out.”
From there, the PPA Board moved swiftly, hiring principal Jennifer Burgess in February, and breaking ground on construction for the new facility in April. The PPA facility will open later this month (students will spend their first two weeks of classes in the adjacent PACE Center).
“The buzz for this school is unbelievable,” said Burgess, who will be opening the school to near-capacity enrollment. “This is in-demand in the town of Parker, which is an arts mecca. I’m excited that this school gets to be a piece of that.”
Burgess is no stranger to Douglas County or charter schools. For five years prior to her hiring with PPA, she served as Principal for SkyView Academy, another Douglas County-based charter school.
It was through some parents in her neighborhood that Burgess was introduced to PPA.
“Some parents in my community were really excited about this school, and I just kept hearing about it and hearing about it,” she said. “One night a mom was just kind of joking and said ‘well you’re a principal, right? We’re looking for a principal. You should do this!’ In October, I attended a fundraiser for Parker Performing Arts and met some of the Board members, and we hit it off. I went through a pretty rigorous interview process with them and competed against 99 other applicants. I’m so thrilled to be in this position today!”
Burgess was previously involved in the arts herself in high school, both as a dancer and as an instrumentalist playing several instruments.
“The arts taught me things outside of the general classroom. It taught me poise, confidence, management, perseverance, dedication and motivation, and that really stuck with me. I feel like my training in the arts prepared me for the human side of life and it even prepared me to do this job today,” she said.
“I see this school as a place for kids to be who they want to be and an opportunity for them to learn in a variety of ways,” she said. “I also see our arts focus as a way to give back to our community and grow our community.”
In fact, the new facility houses a 350-seat mainstage theatre and 100-seat blackbox theatre, which PPA plans to make available to small community groups at affordable rental rates. The mainstage theatre also has an orchestra pit, which is a rare feature in elementary or middle school theatre spaces.
Burgess also sees PPA as an opportunity for kids who may have struggled academically to thrive in this new environment.
“When I started thinking about this school I started thinking about possibilities for kids. All of the students who are sometimes not successful in academic coursework but are very talented and very gifted in other ways, this school would be a good place for them. It would be a place where they could succeed as a human being all around,” she said.
“We are going to prepare our students for wherever it is they want to go to be successful— as performers, scholars and leaders, and also as quality character human beings.”
Students interested in attending the PPA do not need to come to the school with any prior experience in the arts and there is not an audition process. As a charter school, students are selected via an unrestricted lottery system. For more information, visit www.parkerperformingarts.org.