Girls Preparatory School

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Girls Preparatory School
205 Island Ave., 37405
Chattanooga, Tennessee
United States
Type Private all-female secondary
Motto Respect, Responsibility, Excellence, Discovery
Established 1906 (1906)
Founders Tommie Payne Duffy, Eula Lee Jarnagin, and Grace McCallie
Headmaster Dr. Autumn Graves
Grades 6–12
Gender Female
Enrollment Roughly 600
Color(s) Black and blue
Mascot Bruiser
Nickname GPS
Rival The Baylor School
Yearbook Kaleidoscope

Girls Preparatory School, or GPS, is an all-female college preparatory school in Chattanooga, Tennessee, United States. It was founded in 1906 by Grace McCallie, Tommie Payne Duffy, and Eula Lea Jarnagin. Its brother school, The McCallie School, had been founded a year earlier by McCallie's brothers. GPS's current Head of School is Dr. Autumn Adkins Graves, former president of Girard College and named one of "O Magazine's" Women to Watch for the Decade in 2010.[1]


In 1906, Duffy and Jarnagin, two public school teachers, asked the city school board to provide a fourth year of high school studies, including modern language and a lab science, so that girls, as well as boys, would apply for college. When their request was denied, they decided to create an independent school to prepare girls for higher education and convinced their friend Grace McCallie to join them.

In twelve weeks, they converted McCallie's former home to a school. The three founders used all of their money, $300, to equip and launch the school. The school opened on September 12, 1906, in a four-room schoolhouse at 106 Oak Street, which had formerly been McCallie's home. The ground floor contained classrooms with second hand desks. There was also an alcove library and cloakroom.

The school welcomed 45 enrolled students on the first day of classes on September 12, 1906. Each girl paid $80 tuition per year, and at the end of the first year one of the students was accepted to and enrolled in Randolph-Macon Woman's College. In 1915, the school relocated to a larger brick building on Palmetto Street.[2] In 1947, GPS again moved, this time to its current home on Island Avenue, with fourteen classrooms, a study hall, library and dining hall.[3] Since the move, the campus has been significantly added on to and revitalized, with the addition of a separate middle school and high school, an 800-seat theater, and a new student center, among other facilities.

Girls Preparatory School celebrated its 100th anniversary during the 2005-2006 school year.[4]


Girls Preparatory School inspires each girl to lead a life of integrity and purpose by engaging her mind, cultivating her strengths, and nurturing her self-confidence and respect for others.


Middle School (Grades 6-8) In addition to core classes, the girls take a computer class twice a week from 6th grade to develop technological, communication, and problem-solving skills. In the 7th grade, they learn French, Spanish, or Latin, and in the 8th grade, each student purchases a laptop for school use. In the past, IBM tablets were the laptops of choice; however the school switched to MacBook Airs in 2011.[5] iPads are also commonly used among students, though the school's policy on their mandatory purchase has changed more than once.

Upper School (Grades 9-12) The Upper School offers 18 Advanced Placement courses, ranging from AP Biology to AP Comparative Government and Politics. Students consistently score higher than the national and state average for males and females in every subject offered; in 2010-11, 80% of the sophomores through seniors taking the exams scored three or higher on the five point scale, and in the senior class of 2011, 70% were enrolled in at least one AP course.

Class sizes are small, with the student-teacher ratio being 9:1. Each grade consists of 75-115 girls. The school boasts National Merit Scholars, perfect SAT scores, and millions offered in scholarship money per year. Almost all graduates of GPS attend college, and students have been admitted to many prestigious universities, including Dartmouth College, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Columbia University, New York University (NYU), United States Military Academy (USMA), Yale University, Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), Brandeis University, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Edinburgh (Scotland), and Vanderbilt University.


GPS has many traditions that mark different points in the school year, with many including community service involvements.

Formerly, a week long festival was planned each year by an elected committee of students, known as Robin Hood. In the festival, any school-recognized club or team is able to open a booth and sell a craft or food for a charity of their choice. The committee itself could also operate a booth, which would benefit the overall goal of that year's Robin Hood. In the past the main goal has been to gift Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission To Promote Peace... One School At A Time and the founder of Central Asia Institute, with the money to endow a girls' school in Pakistan.[6] Another year it was to help assist a like-minded Chattanooga school with a contribution to Chattanooga Girl's Leadership Academy, an all girls college preparatory charter school focusing on STEM education, the first public single gender school in Tennessee.[7] This long-standing tradition, however, was phased out by 2014.

A newer tradition is the garden cultivated by the environmental science class, in a junior and senior science elective course. The crops grown in the garden are chosen and raised by the students, harvested, and taken to the Chattanooga Area Food Bank,[8][9] or included in the school's lunch menu.

While most traditions are school-wide, some focus on certain grades. One such tradition is that of May Day, a pageant that is a cross between the old traditions of a May Day from the Renaissance and a debutante pageant. The senior class is presented in colorful dresses, one by one, with a May Court and May Queen introduced separately, and the Queen being the last presented. The May Queen and Court are nominated by the senior class and then chosen by the whole student body and faculty based upon personality and embodiment of a true GPS girl. After the class is introduced, festivities are held on the school's front lawn, and seniors, guests, and the student body watch as different grades dance to music chosen to match that year's theme. The last dance is the May Pole ceremony, in which sophomores wrap three traditional May poles for the Queen to walk under, ending the ceremony.[citation needed]

Another tradition is that of senior Chapel Talks. Each senior has the option to give a three- to seven-minute talk about a subject of their choice to their peers during a school-wide assembly, also called chapel, which occurs several times a week. The talks used to be a mandatory part of a girl's senior year, but have since been deemed optional, should extenuating circumstances make it necessary.[citation needed]

Another highly celebrated tradition is that of Cat/Rat, a pairing of a senior with a new sixth grader. In this tradition the senior "cat" acts a mentor and friend to the sixth grader, her "rat." They have several parties and celebrations in which both the seniors and sixth graders bond and often give gifts, as they get to know each other better, and guide each other through the school year.[citation needed]

There are many other traditions as well, such as a long-standing partnership with Habitat for Humanity,[10] and leadership summer camps.

One of GPS's newest traditions, called Mad, Bad, Dangerous, is a week-long thinktank allowing girls and women entrepreneurs from around Chattanooga to seek knowledge and support from local and national professionals. It debuted in 2015, and has hosted such notable guest speakers as Lori Greiner, prolific inventor and "Shark Tank" star.[11]

Another one of GPS's newer traditions is BruiserTube, named after the school's mascot. Friday's assembly features a student-made video that presents school news, fun games and sketches, and a popular talkshow-style comedy skit called Chats with Gab.[12]

Community Interactions[edit]

GPS strives for the highest standards of neighborliness, particularly as the school is situated in a residential part of North Chattanooga. The Head of School, Dr. Autumn Graves, welcomes communication and strives to respond immediately, especially to neighbors and their concerns. Although we cannot control the behavior of all our constituents, we communicate regularly via parent and faculty/staff updates and daily assemblies with our students.[13]

Notable alumnae[edit]

  • Carman Barnes, writer
  • Rachel Boston, actress
  • Tracy Seretean, Academy Award-winning filmmaker
  • Andrea Saul, Republican Party operative
  • Teresa Lawrence Phillips, First female NCAA Division 1 Men's Basketball coach
  • Mai Belle Hurley, first female member of the Chattanooga City Council
  • Lisa Hendy, recipient of the Harry Yount Award of the National Park Service
  • Amy Edgar Sklansky, Author and Editor
  • Judge Marie Williams, first woman appointed judge of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Tennessee
  • Ashley Averett, Senior Program Manager at Microsoft


External links[edit]