Duke Ellington School of the Arts (DESA) was established in 1974 by two trailblazing African-American artists and activists, Peggy Cooper-Cafritz and Mike Malone.
Their vision was to provide equitable access to a life-changing arts education for the District's talented youth, regardless of background or ability to pay.
To this day, DESA is the only public high school in DC to offer a dual curriculum integrating college-preparatory academics with pre-professional arts training in Dance, Instrumental Music, Cinematic Arts & Media Production, Museum Studies, Technical, Design & Production, Theatre, Visual Arts, and Vocal Music.
Nearly 50 years later, Ellington continues to nurture the next generation of scholar-artists and changemakers.
The next generation of scholar-artists and changemakers.
To nurture and inspire passion for arts and learning in talented students who might not otherwise have an opportunity to develop their artistic skills.
To ensure that our students are prepared for post-secondary education and/or careers in the arts by offering an intensive arts-based program.
To prepare our students to become productive citizens in our global society through our strong focus on community service.
DESAP’s goal is to provide high school students with an educational experience that includes college preparatory academics, pre-professional artistic training, and access to the rich cultural and intellectual resources of the District of Columbia and beyond.
This unique public-private partnership model, along with our passionate educators, has changed the lives of thousands of young people.
From the beginning, public and private partnerships have supported the school, which in 2000 evolved into the Duke Ellington School of the Arts Project (DESAP), which includes DC Public Schools, The Ellington Fund, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and George Washington University.
DESA is a 4-star District of Columbia Public School (DCPS) and accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, a worldwide leader in accreditation for over 125 years.
It is also a co-founder and current member of the Arts Schools Network, a 40-year-old non-profit association of arts schools in the United States.
In 2022, DESA was recognized by US News as one of the top schools in the nation and the #5 best private or public school in the District of Columbia! And in 2024, DESA will be hosting the ASN Conference!
At DESA, arts integration and equity are at the forefront of everything we do. Our extended-day, dual-curriculum model is rigorous but it changes lives.
Approximately 20% of students enter two or more years below grade level and 27% of our student population is considered at-risk. Yet our innovative arts-centric educational approach puts them on par with their peers by graduation.
In the 2021-2022 school year, we had a graduation rate of over 98.5%, and our students earn millions in college scholarships each year. They go on to attend some of the best colleges and conservatories in the nation including Julliard, Berklee School of Music, SCAD, NYU, USC, UCLA, Brown University, Oberlin, Emory, Emerson, Rutgers, and countless others.
Our students graduate empowered and prepared to leave their mark on the world.
COLLEGE-PREPARATORY ACADEMICS AND PRE-PROFESSIONAL ARTS TRAINING
The Duke Ellington School of the Arts provides talented high school students with the opportunity to achieve academic and artistic excellence. This dual emphasis forms the foundation upon which an Ellington education is built.
As a college preparatory public school of the District of Columbia offering pre-professional training in Dance, Instrumental Music, Literary Media & Communications, Museum Studies, Technical, Design & Production, Theatre, Visual Arts, and Vocal Music, Ellington encourages students to:
reach their intellectual and creative potential
develop the personal sense of discipline, cooperation, and hard work necessary to succeed in professional occupations
teach the skills that will contribute to the student's personal fulfillment and proficiency in their chosen art form and academic life
DESA’s faculty and staff consist of seasoned educators and industry professionals. We promise students and families an educational experience that combines academic studies and artistic development.
Throughout the year, we also provide students with resources and opportunities to connect with the arts community through internships, field trips, and workshops (Master Classes) taught by visiting professional artists.
This experience empowers our students to make significant contributions to their own lives, their families, and their communities.
We have an extended day, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:55 p.m. to accommodate this rigorous training.
Our students spend 15 hours each week learning their chosen arts art form and earn 32 more credits than the average DC Public Schools high school student.
Our seniors graduate with a DCPS diploma, and pre-professional art-endorsed diploma, recognized by colleges and universities worldwide.
2022 graduation rate
(DCPS average 68%)
2022 college acceptance
rate from DESA
College scholarships awarded to 2022 graduates
TOP 15 %
Public high school by
US News and World Report
Our students have diverse backgrounds:
27% are at risk
80% are black or brown
Our students have varying academic abilities:
20% entering 2+ years below grade level
Our students come from all wards in the District:
48% reside in underserved wards 5, 7, 8
DUKE ELLINGTON SCHOOL OF THE ARTS
EQUITABLE ACCESS TO LIFE-CHANGING ARTS EDUCATION