published Thursday, January 26th, 2012

Chattanooga High School Center for Creative Arts principal stunned by $100,000 gift

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  • photo
    Debbie Smith, the principal of Chattanooga High School Center for Creative Arts
    Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

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    The Center for Creative Arts is on Dallas Road. The school won a $100,000 gift from Target on Wednesday.
    Photo by Angela Lewis.
    enlarge photo

When a Target Corp. employee called Debbie Smith on Tuesday to tell her that her school would receive $100,000, she was so shocked she asked the woman to repeat herself.

"I said, 'I just need to make sure that I'm hearing you,'" Smith said. "How often do you get a phone call that says you're going to get a $100,000?"

Smith, the principal of Chattanooga High School Center for Creative Arts, said her school was among 50 across the United States to win $100,000 from Target. The $5 million grant competition sought nominations from viewers through Ellen DeGeneres' TV talk show.

CCA parent Rhiannon Nelson nominated the North Chattanooga arts and academics magnet school, which has about 560 students in grades sixth through 12th and is located in the former Chattanooga High School building. Students are admitted through an audition process.

Nelson said she was surprised CCA won because she filled out her application in a hurry.

"I never dreamed we'd have a chance," she said. "I'm in shock."

Nelson, who lives in Lookout Valley, said she nominated the school because of its high level of parental involvement and the great work of teachers and staff. Her eighth-grade daughter Hannah is a student at CCA.

"Her school is the most amazing school I've ever seen," she said. "Every walk of life is there and everybody accepts everybody. I can't say enough about that school."

Smith was still reeling from the news Wednesday.

"I haven't had the chance to be quiet and just think about what this really means," she said. "It means unbelievable opportunities for my school and my students. And that's what makes me happy."

The principal said she'd talk with parents and teachers before deciding how to spend the money, though she said the amount means the school can significantly upgrade its technology and art supplies.

"With the challenges that we continue to face with funding, something like this will make dreams come true for people at our school," Smith said. "This is the most exciting thing that's ever happened in my career and definitely the most exciting thing for our school."

Target spokeswoman Jill Hornbacher said the Minneapolis company gives away 5 percent of its income to community causes -- about $3 million a week.

"Education is at the heart of that program," she said. "We have a deep-rooted commitment to education and supporting schools."

Target plans to give $1 billion to education by the end of 2015, she said.

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about Kevin Hardy...

Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...

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