SARASOTA – Booker High School has been named among the top 80 best high schools for the arts in America by Niche.com, a website that analyzes data and reviews to produce comprehensive rankings, report cards and profiles for schools throughout the U.S. The list of high schools with top arts programs includes public and private schools.

The Niche.com list is based on an analysis of key statistics, reviews from students and parents and data from the U.S. Department of Education. The methodology takes into account school diversity, class size and interest among the high schools’ alumni in arts majors and colleges.

Booker High Principal Rachel Shelley has helped propel the school’s status through her commitment to the school’s arts programs. Named the state’s Principal of the Year in June by the Florida Department of Education, Shelley has worked tirelessly to improve the school’s community presence.

“When you see what these students and teachers are doing every day, in their studios and on stage, it is absolutely amazing. It’s definitely time they earned this kind of recognition for their incredible work,”

Shelley said.

Angela Hartvigsen, the district’s fine arts curriculum specialist, said, “This is a well-deserved honor for Booker High, which truly sees the arts as a powerful vehicle for students to connect with life and an amazing way to build culture,” said “School culture is phenomenal because of the leadership,” she said. “When you talk to Booker High students, their enthusiasm and love for the school is palpable.”

To Hartvigsen, the distinction can be attributed to several strengths of the Visual and Performing Arts (VPA) program, from the excellence of its instructors and the diversity of the programming to the atmosphere for learning that the school offers. Love for the school is in no short supply on campus, and students’ comments about their VPA experience are often ebullient.

“I’m very happy here!,” said Timarus Foulks, a sophomore in the school’s Theatre Department. Fellow student Lucille Lawrence said, “We learn new things every day. Our teachers are well-versed in what they are teaching us.”

Established on the Booker High campus in the 1970s, the VPA Department has a history of success, with student productions and artworks earning regional and national titles in all of its disciplines. Notable graduates include American Idol finalist and Broadway star Syesha Mercado, Academy Award-winning makeup artist Bill Corso and actor Charlie Barnett of NBC’s “Chicago Fire.”

Booker High School is located at 3201 N. Orange Ave., Sarasota.

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