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John Payne

According to Kaya Henderson, chancellor of D.C. public schools, Father John Payne collapsed of an apparent heart attack Thursday evening at the school. He was rushed to the hospital, but later died.

Henderson said students would stay home Friday to absorb the news, and with Monday being a school holiday, they anticipated everyone returning to school Tuesday, when grief counselors would be on hand for support as needed.

“This is a huge blow to the Duke Ellington community,” Henderson said in a short press conference at the school Friday morning.

“[Father Payne] had an abundance of faith in his students, showed them love every single day, and set an example that created a welcoming and thriving school community,” she said. “While we grieve this tragic loss, we send our prayers, our thoughts and our condolences to his family. ”

From 1987-1996, John served as the Associate Pastor of Saint Augustine Church Roman Catholic Church, the Mother Church of African American Catholics in the Nation’s Capital. Payne lead many musical events at the church, and even co-wrote several pieces of music with the renowned musician and songwriter, Leon C. Roberts.

In 2000 Payne was named Dean of Students at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts.

In 2007 he was appointed Director of Student Affairs at Ellington, and served as facilities manager, overseeing all major renovations to the historic R Street campus of Duke Ellington, including a major renovation to the school’s dining facility and to 75 percent of the classroom space. He also worked with the Georgetown community to repair and enhance the Ellington Field and Gardens.

With the departure of Rory Pullens, the board of directors appointed Payne as Head of School, effective August 1, 2014. He had just begun his tenure as principal of the school when he died Thursday.

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