Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy wins national award for academic progress

Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy 8th grader Jakavia Brydie, left, raises her hands with joy as she and fellow students walk into the newly renovated Hutton Gymnasium for Wednesday's celebration of the opening in Highland Park. The gym will be the home of the Mustang's led by coach Justin Booker.

Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy is one of four schools across the country to receive the School Innovation and Change Award from the National Principals Leadership Institute this year.

The award, which includes a $10,000 prize, celebrates school transformation by spotlighting the pioneering practices and extraordinary improvements of schools previously designated as failing.

Elaine Swafford, executive director of CGLA, said the award's application required school administrators to evaluate the transition from failing to success, demanding they reflect, measure and quantify the school's progress.

"[The award is] an endorsement of the school's decision to establish a project-based curriculum that integrates science, technology, engineering, the arts and math into the overall academic program," Swafford said in a statement. "At CGLA, student success is foremost, and we know that offering exciting, interactive experiences engages students and awakens curiosity."

Receiving the award is an opportunity for CGLA to celebrate "the institutional shifts that invite interest, spark learning, and lead to educational excellence," Swafford added.

CGLA was one of 32 schools to apply for the award, which involved a rigorous and detailed application process. According to the application, "achieving significant school change is challenging and hard won, and [the award] recognizes failing schools that managed to become exemplary. Saluting the innovative strategies of these schools provides verification that change leaders can make a difference."

Swafford is entering her fifth year at CGLA, and is starting to move the dial for girls who are arriving at the school several grade levels behind their peers. Nearly all of the students attending CGLA live in poverty, and about 90 percent of the schools graduates now go on to college.

CGLA is located in Highland Park, and earlier this year the Hamilton County Board of Education approved the charter of Chattanooga Preparatory School, an all-boys charter school that plans to open in 2018 and partner with CGLA.

Jill Berkowicz, associate of the National Principals Leadership Institute, will visit CGLA Tuesday and officially honor the school during a ceremony at 10:30 a.m. The program is open to the public.

The National Principals Leadership Institute is a nonprofit, founded in 1998, dedicated to leadership development and school transformation.