Dr. Isidore Rudnick is on a mission. He strides through the halls of the new School for Creative & Performing Arts building in Over-the-Rhine quickly and purposefully, fingering his tie absent-mindedly as he walks. He takes the stairs at close to a run. When he has to wait for the elevator, he seems annoyed at being forced to slow down, then he finally halts and sighs, "It's non-stop."

The 48-year-old SCPA artistic director, affectionately called "Isi" by his peers, seems to be wearing a "No time to say hello. Goodbye. I'm late, I'm late, I'm late" sign, although it's actually more like a flashing billboard. In fact, his entire manner is redolent of the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland.

But when a group of children walks by in a lopsided line, a teacher leading them across the spacious new floors of the school on Central Parkway, Rudnick slows the slightest bit. He greets them with a string of "good mornings" and "how are yous?" And when a student stops to ask Rudnick if he can talk to him, Rudnick again slows "” the student doesn't seem to mind walking to keep up "” and tells him sure, just come by the office during lunch or after school.

As the artistic leader at SCPA, now the only public K-12 performing arts school in the country since it merged with the Schiel Primary School for Arts Enrichment in Corryville, Rudnick acts as a shepherd to 1,425 kids. He has "a lot, a lot" of interaction with the students, and "oh, yeah" they all know him by name.

Rudnick sighs often, taps his foot when he's forced to sit at a desk for too long, but he raises his voice when he's discussing something he's passionate about, which usually means he's discussing the kids at SCPA.

"My favorite part of the job is watching the students rehearse and perform," he says, leaning forward and speaking in slow staccato to emphasize his point. "I learn something new every day. Seeing the passion that these kids bring to school every day is what keeps me going."

Although watching students perform is what fuels Rudnick's passion, fostering the growth of those students is what takes up most of his time. "It's hard to balance all the demands of the job," he notes.

Rudnick is a kind of jack-of-all-trades in the music industry. He plays trombone, composes, arranges, conducts and educates. He left his position as director of instrumental music at Yakima Valley Community College in Washington, where he'd worked for six years, when he was selected as SCPA's artistic director in 2005.

In his role, Rudnick is the administrator for the arts programs at SCPA. He oversees the production season and new student auditions. He also schedules all of the school's events, including performances, recitals, guest artist visits and artistic field trips. In addition, however, Rudnick spends several hours each day answering parent and student questions, collaborating with faculty members on programming, and meeting with community members to discuss partnerships and opportunities for SCPA students.

It's about partnerships

Since he started at SCPA, Rudnick has been instrumental in forming partnerships with leading professional arts organizations in the area, including the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, the Cincinnati Ballet and the Cincinnati Arts Association. Through the school's collaboration with the CSO, symphony musicians teach at the school in a kind of artist-in-residence program. And new this year is a before- and after-school program with the CAA that allows SCPA students to take classes in an art form that they're not necessarily majoring in at school.

"We've been able to provide some really wonderful enrichment opportunities for our students," he says.

In fact, although Rudnick concedes he'd like to increase the publicity of SCPA's visual arts and creative writing programs, he names his biggest accomplishment during his tenure as raising awareness of the school's unique programs.

His one regret?

"There's not enough time in the day to get everything done that needs to get done. You know what?" A rare pause. The foot tapping slows. "Probably even before that "¢ that I don't get to spend as much time with my family as I want to." Another pause. "That's it."

Rudnick's family "” his wife, Shelly, and two sons, Nathan, 8, and Joshua, 6 "” lives in Mount Washington. The kids attend Sands Montessori, but Rudnick and his wife are discussing signing them up for auditions for SCPA.

Michael J. Matts first met Rudnick as a parent four years ago when his daughter entered SCPA. Matts is now president of Friends of SCPA (the school's fundraising arm) and he calls Rudnick the "Energizer Bunny."

"It doesn't take long hanging around his office to figure out what he's like," Matts laughs. "But seriously, I've waited in his office because he was taking care of kids before he got to me. It's not like he'll move the kids out or tell them to go away. He cares about every single one.

"In my professional and volunteering career, there are very few people who can match his unbridled and boundless commitment," Matts says. "I honestly don't think the school would be where it is without him. I can't think of anybody who works harder to advance the artistic programming at that school. Period."

The credit is Kunzel's

Rudnick is quick to give credit where credit is due to the school's hard-working faculty and administrators "” which include a new principal and assistant principal this year. But he also gives accolades to the spirit of the late Pops conductor for whom the building is named: Erich Kunzel.

Throwing open the doors to the 300-seat Mayerson Theater, one of the school's three theaters, Rudnick points to a covered piano on the stage. "That's Kunzel's piano that was in his office at Music Hall. He gave it to the school."

As for the brouhaha surrounding the proposal to name SCPA for Kunzel, Rudnick will only give a political response: "I'm relieved that we reached a compromise in that the building is named for him, and I will continue to make sure that students know that it's due to his efforts and his legacy that we are in this building."

Kunzel's vision for making SCPA a seamless part of the Cincinnati arts community, which resulted in the largest construction project in Over-the-Rhine since Music Hall was built in 1878, was funded by the Greater Cincinnati Arts & Education Center. The center spearheaded the private fundraising campaign for the new building, raising $31 million of the $72 million price tag.

Karen Dorn, center administrative manager, says the money raised by the nonprofit was spent on amenities Cincinnati Public Schools would not have covered. Those include classrooms specifically dedicated to creating, performing and rehearsing. Specifically, art and dance studios, classrooms for creative writing, practice space for vocalists and musicians, as well as an expansive technical theater workshop where students design and build sets for all the school's productions.

The group's next endeavor is creating an endowment to fund the continued maintenance of the school.

Time to focus

"I think we've been able to climb a humongous, huge mountain with getting a world-class facility," Rudnick says. "Now we have the opportunity to really focus and concentrate on our programs and our courses."

Keeping that focus will be made easier by the cancellation of the MTV reality show Taking the Stage, which was set at SCPA and lasted two seasons.

"It was a good opportunity for us to showcase the school and recruit new students," Rudnick says. But, he adds, "Now I'm glad that our focus with this new building is on what it needs to be on." Applications are up 40 percent this school year and Rudnick expects that number to increase, in part due to the TV show, but mostly thanks to the new building.

The school has had many success stories. Of the myriad, there are a few Rudnick likes to rattle off: a former fourth-grade student now playing the part of Billy Elliot on Broadway ("simply ah-mazing"), two students who won full music scholarships to the University of
Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, and 10 students who were invited to perform for first lady Michelle Obama in the East Wing of the White House last October ("It was thrilling," he recalls). Rudnick adds that SCPA's graduating seniors earned $8.2 million worth of scholarships last year.

That's not to say the school has not had bad fortune.

Colored glass orbs hang suspended above the third-floor atrium, a permanent art installation in memory of Esme Kenney, the 13-year-old SCPA student who was murdered last year while jogging near her home.

"That was definitely the most difficult time," Rudnick begins, the foot tapping slowing once more. "Knowing how much her family hurt, knowing what a shock it was to all our students and working with the administrative team to try to console them "¢ it was the most tragic moment I've experienced here."

In Rudnick's office, season and concert posters, diplomas and awards "” including the "School Spirit Award" from MTV "” adorn the walls. On a table sits a picture of Rudnick with "Slide" Hampton, Rudnick's "favorite jazz musician in the whole world."

Although it's time to get back to work and put out the next fire, the "Energizer Bunny" takes one last minute amid ringing phones, loud-speaker announcements and people waiting outside the door to comment on his future with SCPA.

"I really enjoy working here," he says, then takes a second to re-think it and adds with a genuine smile, "And I'll continue to work on the balance equation."