By David Carroll

CHATTANOOGA (WRCB)-  A performing arts school is best known for its elaborate productions, and the Center for Creative Arts (the former Chattanooga High School) is no exception

But it's also a middle/high school, with a demanding curriculum, and when students aren't on stage, they're scoring straight A's (grades 6-8) on the State Report Card.  The high school students increased their achievement scores in each subject.  It's one of a handful of schools to excel academically, in a year when 12 Hamilton County schools scored all F's. 

Principal Debbie Smith says, "I truly believe academics and the arts go together, the rehearsing, the discipline they have to develop in their performing endeavors goes hand in hand with our academic learning." She credits the school's success to past and present staff and leadership, calling it "a true community commitment."  Unlike many principals, her evenings are not filled with football games, wrestling matches and track meets, but rather dance programs, piano recitals and theater productions.  "I wouldn't have it any other way," she says.

CCA is one of a kind in Hamilton County...a performing arts magnet school, with no football team, no marching band and no volleyball.  It's not for everybody, but students say that's what makes it special.  Sophomore Sydney Trussell lives 20 miles away, and drives past a half-dozen high schools to attend CCA.

She says, "Being in a performing arts school gives me the motivation to succeed, and you get to do what you love.  It's not a normal school, but we're not normal people.  We're passionate about what we do.  We get to wear what we want, within reason, and we get to express ourselves.  Not every high schooler can say that.  I don't think I would enjoy a normal high school setting." 

Junior Nick Fleming says, "What's special to me is the safe environment, because in other schools some arts students face prejudice and teasing.  If you can't feel safe and comfortable in high school, you probably won't do as well.  This school has made me what I am today."

Many of CCA's students are aiming for an arts scholarship, and a career in entertainment or the creative arts.  And although this school has already earned awards and attention locally and nationally, it's still a public school, with many needs.

Principal Smith says, "We lack in equipment and microphones in our auditorium as well as lighting we can depend on.  We've made improvements, but it's not uncommon for something to fail in the middle of a performance.  Many of our most important pieces of stage equipment were donated 10-15 years ago, and you can't expect it to last forever."

The auditorium at the 45-year-old school has been upgraded, but is still lacking in many ways.  She says the local arts community supports the school as much as possible, but can't be expected to answer every need.  And with county school tax money largely going for classroom needs, as it should, the performing arts needs are often on the back burner.  She urges anyone who is interested in learning more about CCA, or contributing to the school to contact her at 209-5929.