School officials say a pair of national awards are just the most recent evidence that a focus on individualized education and school choice is paying off in Hamilton County's magnet schools.
This year both Battle Academy for Teaching and Learning and Chattanooga High Center for Creative Arts won Magnet Schools of Excellence awards, a national designation given by the Magnet Schools of America group. The local schools were chosen from more than 4,000 U.S. magnet or themed-based schools and judged on student achievement, parent engagement, student diversity and school uniqueness.
Both schools now are in the running for cash awards to be given out at the magnet group's annual conference in May. This year's award is the second for Battle and the second consecutive for CCA. Several of Hamilton County's other magnet schools also have garnered recognition from the national group in the past.
Leaders at Battle Academy believe they're seeing the fruit of their focus on "multiple intelligences," or the idea that all students learn in different ways, thus teachers should teach in different ways. And CCA's leader says the award validates the school's belief that students can set a high bar of performance both in the arts and core academics.
Battle Academy takes advantage of its location by taking trips to businesses and destinations throughout the downtown area. And Principal Saunya Goss said partners, parents and kids from throughout the county create a unique school culture. Since 2010 the school's academic achievement grades have risen from all D's to B's and C's, according to the Tennessee Report Card.
"Downtown is changing," Goss said. "And we feel like we're a part of that revitalization."
Training for Battle teachers is immense, Goss said, and teachers must stay creative and flexible by finding new ways of teaching students, thus meeting each student's individualized needs.
"The teachers know that to teach here is not an 8-to-3 job," she said.
About four miles north, Chattanooga's public arts school is showing the power of combining the arts with the mainstays of reading and math. The school allows students to explore visual arts, theater, music and communications among other tracks. It hosts dozens of performances and shows throughout the school year. But it also managed this year to be among only six Hamilton County schools to receive state designation for performing in the top 5 percent of schools on Tennessee standardized exams.
"We've seen the support and positive results art has had on our academics here," said Principal Debbie Smith.
The students come to the school -- which requires an audition for admittance -- with an existing passion or interest in the arts. And even those who might not be academically inclined often will excel, because classroom performance is a prerequisite for participating in shows, concerts and installations, similar to the pass-to-play policies for after-school sports or activities at other schools.
"We believe we have tremendous focus in our student body," said fine arts facilitator Don Andrews. "We see that comes over into the academic classroom."