Savannah Arts Academy

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Savannah Arts Academy
500 Washington Avenue
Savannah, Georgia 31405
Coordinates 32°02′46″N 81°05′34″W / 32.046037°N 81.092855°W / 32.046037; -81.092855Coordinates: 32°02′46″N 81°05′34″W / 32.046037°N 81.092855°W / 32.046037; -81.092855
Type Magnet, public high school
Established 1998
Principal Gifford Lockley
Grades 9-12
Enrollment 809 (2014-15)[1]
Student to teacher ratio 14.76
Color(s) Black, silver, and white
Mascot Panther
Information (912) 395-5000

Savannah Arts Academy (SAA) is the first dedicated performing and visual arts school in Savannah, Georgia, United States. It is part of the Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools. Savannah Arts Academy was granted charter school status and the former Savannah High School building in July 1998, and opened in August of the same year with 397 students enrolled.

In 2012, the school was ranked the #1 high school in Georgia, and #87 among more than five thousand high schools nationally, by US News and World Report.[2]


The school offers classes up to the AP or college level.

AP courses

Communication Arts[edit]

The Communication Arts Department offers intensive courses related to information technology and broadcast/video production. As freshmen, students study basic computer applications and gain knowledge of the communication system by participating in a variety of activities, problems, and settings. Students work in information technology, software systems management, operating systems, data communications, the Internet, digital media production, and web design. Broadcast and video production courses provide advanced training in video production techniques, including program production, editing, lighting, and graphics. Students in Communication Arts also have the opportunity to take Journalism I and II (newspaper staff), and Journalism III and IV (yearbook staff).


The Dance Department students take technical training in ballet and modern, plus additional training in jazz, if interested. Students engage in two academic dance courses - one year of dance history and one year of dance composition. The department traditionally performs in two large annual productions with dance works created by faculty, students, and guest artists. Choreography is produced both in class and in afternoon rehearsals. There are also multiple opportunities for performing in venues from the fall Student Choreography Concerts to the large spring musical production, as well as touring local area schools and events. Each year interested dance students may attend the National High School Dance Festival and have the opportunity to work with local and national guest artists throughout the school year.


The faculty includes professional musicians, active performers, clinicians, and adjudicators.

The chorus has performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City and the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. They were also invited to perform in Australia and England. They have released several CDs.

The music department provides instruction in winds, strings, percussion, piano and vocal music. Ensembles include String Orchestra, Symphony Orchestra, Concert Band, Jazz Band, Mixed Choruses, Men's Choir, and Women's Choir. SAA has five choruses: the SAA Chorale, Men's Choir, Skylarks, Women's Cantabile, and Nova Singers. The program through the years has garnered every award available to it through the Georgia Music Educators Association.[citation needed]

Students who graduate from the program and elect to pursue music in higher education have been awarded scholarships to the leading institutions in the country, including Indiana University and Oberlin Conservatory of Music.[citation needed]

The orchestral program is one of the few left in the city's public school system.

Theatre Arts[edit]

The Theatre Arts Department's mission is to foster talent and develop creativity through professional training and a wide variety of courses including Drama Fundamentals, Acting I & II, Technical Theatre I & II, Acting III, Theater History, Musical Theater I & II, Technical Theatre III, a design course, and Advanced Drama (a performance group). Students have the opportunity to practice the skills learned in the classroom through after-school productions, competitions and festivals. It holds several performances each year.

Visual Arts[edit]

The Visual Arts Department offers Art History and Criticism, Drawing, Painting, Photography, Sculpture, Fibers, Fashion, Ceramics, Pottery, and AP Studio Art.


The Savannah Arts Academy building is located on a site that was originally planned as a luxury tourist hotel called the Hotel Georgia. The Works Progress Administration, in the midst of the Great Depression, expressed interest in the site for use as the new Savannah High School, which was dedicated on June 15, 1937. After 61 years on Washington Avenue, Savannah High School classes were moved to a new building on Pennsylvania Avenue, leaving the structure available for the newly formed Savannah Arts Academy for the school year beginning August 1998.[citation needed]

Awards and recognition[edit]

During the 2006-07 school year, Savannah Arts Academy was recognized with the Blue Ribbon School Award of Excellence by the United States Department of Education.[3] This is considered the highest award an American school can receive.[4] "The Blue Ribbon award is given only to schools that reach the top 10 percent of their state's testing scores over several years or show significant gains in student achievement."[5]

Other recognitions include:

  • Awarded "Pay for Performance" by the State Board of Education
  • SAT score average exceeds the state and national average
  • Member of International Network of Performing and Visual Arts Schools
  • #1 in the state on the GHSGT passage rate: 100% in Writing, English, Mathematics, Social Studies, and Science for the second year in a row. They were the first, and to date only, school in the history of the Savannah School System to achieve 100% passage in every area.
  • Voted "Best Public School" by the readers of Connect Savannah
  • 90% of graduates are HOPE Scholarship eligible. Of the 2006 graduating class, all received the HOPE Scholarship.
  • Received a "Superior School" commendation from the State School Superintendent
  • Largest number of Governor's Honors Program finalists (twelve) in the district for the 2005-06 school year
  • Thirteen students were recognized by the College Board as 2004 AP Scholars, AP Scholars with Honors, or AP Scholars with Distinction for their excellent achievements on the AP Exams.
  • SAA received Gold and Silver at the All-State Festival of Art & Design. Sixteen SAA student artists were chosen to go to the Georgia All-State Festival of Art and Design at Brenau University.
  • SAA students and faculty have performed in China, London, Scotland, Australia and Iceland.
  • Many of SAA's Odyssey of the Mind teams have competed at the World Finals level. In 2006, the school's team for the problem "The Jungle Bloke" received first place in their division at the World level.
  • SAA won the Governor's Cup in 2008 and 2009, a trophy awarded for having the highest SAT scores in the state.[6]


Students must perform ten hours of community service each year (twice the district mandate), maintain an 80% average, and have very good discipline. Each child's parents must also do a total of ten hours of service annually, but parent service can include volunteering at performances or attending parent meetings.

Admission to Savannah Arts Academy requires an 80% or greater overall academic average in the previous year of schooling, as well as satisfactory marks in conduct.

The audition requirement for Savannah Arts is waived for students enrolled in the Armstrong Atlantic Youth Orchestra (AAYO) or the Atlantic Chamber Orchestra (ACO) who meet the academic requirements. AAYO and ACO are member orchestras which are filled by recommendation, including an intensive audition process, and are sponsored by the music department at Armstrong Atlantic State University.

Incoming students are also required to audition for their chosen arts major, which can range from an on-the-spot demonstration (music, theatre and dance) to creation of a portfolio (visual and communication arts).


Current Administration
Gifford Lockley Principal
Shennell Reedy Assistant Principal
Cassandra Walker Assistant Principal
Michael Corbett Lead Counselor
Christine Shawl Arts Department Chair
Terry Finlay[A] Foreign Language Department Head
Amy Durden Science Department Head
Daniel Snope Mathematics Department Head
Bradley Wallace English / Language Arts (ELA) Department Head

Hired in August 1998, Mary Arbee co-wrote the charter of the school, organized the first school council, and assisted in hiring the first faculty and staff who auditioned the first students. The following year, Arbee resigned and relocated.

Beverly Oliver came to SAA to serve as interim principal until the arrival of Marcia Clanton from Hubert Middle School in February 2000. In March 2006, Clanton was promoted to executive director of all high schools in Savannah and was replaced by SAA administrator Odessa Richards.

SAA has had several other assistant principals: Lynette Angeloni, Dr. Angie Lewis, David Marshall, Travis Cowart, Ken Traylor, and Odessa Richards. For most of the school year of 2010-2011, Heather Handy was the interim principal. Gif Lockley replaced Handy as the new permanent principal in 2011.

Performance facilities[edit]

John Varnedoe Theatre

The main theatre located at the front of the building was redone with the school-wide renovation, supplying a large stage, cloth theatre chairs, new carpeting, and wing space.

Black Box Theatre

This is a theatre and communications classroom.

Performance hall

The hall is used for events such as Beta Induction and lectures.

Student activities[edit]

Savannah Arts' school-related events, performances, student clubs, and sports teams include:


Annual competitions[edit]

Annual performances[edit]

The theatre shows that occur each year stick mainly to this schedule:

  • The first show is always Works in Progress, a reader's theatre production directed by Mrs. Verdis. The plays featured in the show are winners of a contest held in the spring of the last school year.
  • The fall show is usually a straight play (though this was diverted from with 2005's Leader of the Pack, starring Aaren Keith and Jack Webber). Until the departure of Verdis in the 07-08 school year, The 1940s Radio Show was performed in the second quarter. Since 2012, however, the fall shows are now musicals.
  • In the second semester, the first show is always "A Night of One Acts." The staging of the one-acts changed drastically from the 2005-2006 to the 2006-2007 school year. Previously, students were allowed to pick their play, cast, and design; however, after a controversy over content in one of the plays, the productions became a class-based assignment, with teacher oversight.
  • After the Night of One Acts, in the late spring, the musical is performed. A culmination of all of the academy's majors come together to perform the talents they have added onto during the year. Previous musicals include Once Upon a Mattress, Leader of the Pack, The Music Man, You're A Good Man Charlie Brown, Anything Goes, and Fiddler on the Roof.
  • Dance shows, the most recent being Sleeping Beauty (spring 2016)


Notable alumni[edit]

Name Class year Notability Reference(s)
Nivea Hamilton 2000 Recording artist
Cheryl Haworth 2001 Olympic weightlifter
Rebecca Holliday 2001 Participant in Season 2 of Project Runway
Sami 'Druggedfox' Muhanna 2010 Professional Super Smash Bros. player


A.^ 2008 District Teacher of the Year


  1. ^ "Savannah Arts Academy". National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved December 28, 2017. 
  2. ^ "Savannah Arts Academy - Best High Schools - US News". U.S. News and World Report. Retrieved 2012-06-04. 
  3. ^ "U.S. Department of Education Blue Ribbon Schools Program: Schools Recognized 2003 through 2006" (pdf). United States Department of Education. Retrieved 2006-05-11. 
  4. ^ "CIBA cited as one of the best by Education Department". Journal Inquirer. 2006-11-16. Archived from the original on 2007-08-19. 
  5. ^ "Viers Mill School Wins Blue Ribbon; School Scored High on Statewide Test". The Washington Post. 2005-09-29. 
  6. ^ The Governor's Office of Student Achievement. "Contest Winners".

External links[edit]