Melanie Hammer has been a part of the Douglas Anderson School of the Arts community for the last seventeen years and has been the school’s principal since April of 2017.
Hammer started at DA as a math teacher after moving to Jacksonville from Atlanta, Ga., where she taught math at a dual magnet school. After being at the arts school in Atlanta, Hammer said she sort of gravitated to DA.
“This was my first interview when I moved to Jacksonville and Ms. Cornelius at the time said I’m offering you the job, don’t interview anywhere else.”
For the first three years, Hammer taught math. She switched positions with math teacher Chris Allen-Black, who was curriculum coordinator at the time.
“He was moving to Boston, and I was getting my masters, so he said ‘You know if I was in the classroom, it would make me more marketable, for when I move to Boston. So, let’s switch jobs.’ So, I became the Curriculum Coordinator,” Hammer said.
Hammer finished her master’s degree in December and became assistant principal.
Hammer spent the next eight years at DA as assistant principal running both the advanced placement position and the operations position.
Hammer believes she’s faced the usual challenges during her time at DA.
“I think what happens in the city and the country mirrors what’s happening in the school,” Hammer said. “We’re just a smaller community within a bigger community.”
Hammer also finds challenges with staying current in the arts as well.
“Making sure when students aren’t getting into certain universities, conservatories, colleges; what do we need to add to the program. There’s no curriculum for the arts like there is for math or sciences,” Hammer said. “It’s making sure the arts are relevant and giving students what they need to take it to the next level.”
Hammer considers overcoming these challenges a collaborative effort.
Being principal, Hammer has had a lot of favorite moments, but said she loved seeing students perform. She has a particular love for DA’s Extravaganza and being able to see all the arts areas in one evening.
She will miss the students most of all when she leaves DA but plans to still come to performances and stay connected.
“I hope I can still be involved and come to performances, and possibly involvement through the foundation without being one of those principals who can’t let go.”
Although Hammer was unsure about how unusual it is to leave mid-year, she’s been in this position before in 2017 when the principal retired in April of that school year.
Hammer however is excited to start her new position as vice president of strategies and operations at Cathedral Arts Project using skills she’s learned during her time at DA and her experiences with arts education.
“I think truly an understanding of how the arts impact students and all the positive things that the arts do for kids in terms of attendance and discipline and grades and test scores and connection to school.”
Although somethings will be similar, she says she’ll mostly be driving goals with a strategic plan towards a non-profit.
One thing Hammer will miss is her favorite spots on campus.
“My favorite place is any classroom,“ Hammer said. “If I’m having a bad day, I will take my computer and sit in the back of the classroom. Sometimes to the point where I’m not even watching what’s going on I’m just trying to be in a happy place and the teacher will say something to me and I’ll have no idea what they’re talking about because I wasn’t paying attention.”
Hammer’s least favorite place is lunch duty.
“Not because I don’t like being around the kids, it’s just loud and noisy and no masks right now,” she said. “But I love seeing you guys interacting in classrooms. I’ll go into a creative writing or English classroom where you guys are analyzing or discussing something and I’ll always think back, were we that smart in high school? I’m not sure I could have some of the discussions you guys have sometimes when I was in high school.”
Hammer is amazed by DA students every day and hopes her daughter will join this community in the next few years.
Thinking about her new position, Hammer hopes she can help increase arts education and access to the arts in Northeast Florida and make an impact on a broader scale. Hammer wants to give access to the arts for all students.
“I truly believe in the power of arts education.”