Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts is seen on Tuesday, Sept. 26, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Two Hamilton County Schools — Chattanooga High School Center for Creative Arts and Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts — have been awarded Magnet School of Merit awards from the Magnet Schools of America.

They were the only magnet schools in Tennessee to earn the recognition in their categories this year. There are 12 magnet schools in the Hamilton County Schools system in total.

CCA is one of Magnet Schools of America's 2020 Schools of Excellence, the highest honor awarded by the organization. The school has been named either a School of Distinction or School of Excellence for the past several years, Principal Debbie Smith said.

Its theme is arts, but the school balances arts and academics with equal importance and treats students equally, Smith said.

"We coined the phrase that we're the school where arts and academics share center stage. So, because we're a school of arts doesn't mean we emphasize it more than we emphasize our academics," Smith said.

CCA is also the only school from Tennessee named a national certified magnet school, a four-year award. The school is going through the renewal process for the award, which entails reviewing feedback across different categories.

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Staff Photo by D. Patrick Harding / The entrance to the Center for Creative Arts, also known as Chattanooga High School, in North Chattanooga.

"So we take that feedback, and based on that we continue to develop our theme and make sure that we are touching on all aspects of the arts, and how we embed it into our academics but embed it into our entire school and help our students to, once again, become better at their craft to become not only an emerging artist, but when they leave, that they have reached a level of artistry and that they carry that on to their next stage in their education," Smith said.

CSLA is one of Magnet Schools of America's 2020 Schools of Distinction, the second highest honor the organization bestows. In the past, the school has been named a top elementary magnet school in the nation and has been named either a School of Excellence or School of Distinction multiple times, said Principal Krystal Scarbrough.

"What makes this so special is that in the current climate, with COVID and ending the year the way that we had to end it, to meet the criteria to be selected in the midst of a pandemic is an outstanding achievement," Scarbrough said.

Both principals praised their faculty for hard work this year.

"For me as the principal of the school, it tells me that my staff and my students and my learning community at large is doing what they need to do to ensure that all kids are learning at high levels and all kids are succeeding," Scarbrough said.

Contact Anika Chaturvedi at or 423-757-6592.