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Battle Academy was also recognized this year by the magnet group with its naming as a Magnet School of Excellence alongside CCA. The Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts and Normal Park Museum Magnet School were named Magnet Schools of Distinction this year. Normal Park has previously won the top award in the elementary division.
CCA is a different breed of high school, where kids play guitars on the front steps and tap-dance in the hallways. And school leaders are getting their biggest validation yet that a school can emphasize the arts heavily and still perform masterfully in academics.
Chattanooga High Center for Creative Arts won the Top Secondary School Award from Magnet Schools of America at its national convention Tuesday in Tulsa, Okla. The magnet group includes more than 4,000 magnet or theme-based schools from across the country. The group dispatched a team to visit CCA in its vetting for the award, which takes into account student achievement, parent engagement, student diversity and school uniqueness.
"My teachers are fabulous," Principal Debbie Smith said. "They're behind this. They're the ones that have done it."
CCA this year was one of six schools in Hamilton County to be recognized for performing in the top 5 percent of schools on Tennessee standardized exams.
Smith said the award from the national magnet group offers further validation of the school's success.
"I'm just thrilled to death," Smith said. "It's a great honor for Chattanooga and Hamilton County."
Teachers say the grades six-through-12 school in North Chattanooga has gained a solid reputation for the arts. But it has also built a family atmosphere full of passionate students and teachers who choose to be there.
Darlene Johnston, who teaches government, economics and personal finance, says the school's "perfect blend" of arts and academics makes a special place for students.
"They're happy and engaged," she said. "And those arts are integrated into the academic classrooms. It's just a really happy place to be."
Word of the national recognition spread fast back to Chattanooga on Tuesday. A text message to the assistant principal. An announcement to students. And an automated call to parents. In her excitement, Smith took a moment to pen an email to teachers. In the subject line: "You did it."