Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy Executive Director Elaine Swafford.

This story was updated May 3, 2018, at 11:59 p.m.

A pillar of Chattanooga's education community and high-achieving students were recognized at the Better Business Bureau's annual luncheon Wednesday.

Elaine Swafford, executive director of Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy and Chattanooga Preparatory, was the keynote speaker. Swafford spoke about her experience directing improvement efforts at CGLA and running the school with a business mindset.

When Swafford took the helm of the school nearly six years ago, the all-girls public charter school was at risk of being closed because of poor student performance.

"Six years ago, I had the foresight to pose the question: 'Where do we go from here?'" Swafford told the audience at the luncheon. "A closed building has no voice for the students."

Under Swafford's leadership, CGLA improved so drastically that it has been twice named a Tennessee Reward School and received national recognition through the School Innovation and Change Award.

"Moving from below average to average is unacceptable and pointless," Swafford shared.

Swafford told the audience that the improvement was possible because of the standards that both students and adults in the building are being held to.

"If standards are lacking, your vision will perish," she said. "Self-regulation, or what we call self-efficacy," is loving what we're doing, doing it at a really high level and doing it the same way all the time ... even when no one's looking."

This fall, Chattanooga Preparatory, the "sister" all-boys school to CGLA, will open its doors. Swafford will serve as both schools' executive director.

The luncheon also served as an award ceremony at which the Better Business Bureau recognized both local businesses with the annual Torch Awards and students from the region with Student of Integrity scholarship awards.

Ten students were awarded $1,000 scholarships, based largely on essays written about the importance of ethics in business.

Scholarship winners included:

  • Taylor Mackensie Brannon - Silverdale Baptist Academy
  • Caitlyn Ashley Cherry - Calhoun High School
  • Trinity Rose Donnellan - Signal Mountain Middle/High School
  • Jordan Ashlynn Fox - Walker Valley High School
  • Alexandria Bea Mabry - South Pittsburg High School
  • Dylan Robert Minghini - Gordon Lee High School
  • Kasana Grace Page - Coosa High School
  • Sydney Nicole Rogers - Heritage High School
  • Cade Douglass Shortt - Ooltewah High School
  • Andrew Brian Soule - Trion High School

The program, now in its 14th year, has awarded more than $130,000 in scholarships. The annual competition is open to students in 21 surrounding counties in Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia. This year's finalists were chosen out of 129 applicants.

Contact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.