Students come from Carroll, Benton, Weakley, Henry and Henderson counties
By Sabrina Bates
After nearly three decades of spreading awareness and holding elected officials to their word, the Carroll Academy heard some good news when the Tennessee General Assembly wrapped up the first part of its legislative session earlier this year. Carroll Academy is now a recurring line-item for funding in Gov. Bill Lee’s annual budget.
“The future is bright for them,” outgoing director and 29-year advocate for Huntingdon’s Carroll Academy shared. Hatch is retiring from his position as director and serves as a mentor for the Academy. Renee Sutton will lead the Academy.
Hatch explained in 2017, he had not heard of Lee while he sought the gubernatorial position. A phone call from the sporting goods person in Franklin, Robert Butler, who helps supply items for Carroll Academy’s two basketball teams, connected Hatch with Lee, who was only a candidate then for the governor’s seat. Lee and his wife visited with Hatch at the Academy that year.
Hatch said Lee saw the second-hand desks that were donated by other schools in Carroll County.
“He said, ‘I’m going to be elected governor and I’m never going to forget you,’” Hatch recalled about Lee.
Hatch was recovering from a liver transplant in 2019 and spent a lot of time in Nashville. After Lee was elected governor, he reached out to Hatch and requested another visit to the Carroll Academy. He is the first sitting governor in Tennessee to visit the Academy in Hatch’s 29 years as director of the school.
“He (Lee) did exactly what he said he was going to do. I consider it an act of God and there are so many people who had a role in making this happen. There is a lot of support from Rep. Brock Martin and (Sen.) John Stevens. Some may not realize that Rep. Curt Hastings, who represents Lexington, also had a hand in making this happen. Doctors in Vanderbilt wrote letters of support. The influence of the private sector carries a lot of weight,” Hatch added.
Carroll Academy will still receive funding from its partner school systems in Carroll, Weakley, Benton, Henry and Henderson counties. But its base funding is now in place through the Tennessee legislature.
Hatch said the original mission of Carroll Academy is to help keep children out of state custody.
As a juvenile court director in Carroll County, Hatch saw 80 children in two years who became wards of the state. Once the state becomes a custodian of a child, it costs an estimated $60-80,000 a year for services. A phone call from the late Gov. Ned Ray McWherter to Hatch and Judge Larry Logan was the starting point for the birth of Carroll Academy. The Academy is a state-licensed facility for students in grades 6th-12th operated by the Carroll County Juvenile Court.
The Academy offers 22 state curriculum credits for high-schoolers. Sutton explained the school, which is open throughout the entire year, averages approximately 70-85 students each year.
Students attending Carroll Academy are ordered to complete a six-month behavior program before they are allowed to return to their local schools. Many students who have to enroll at the Academy have truancy issues or are sent there as a result of violating no-tolerance policies.
The Academy utilizes a bus system that picks up students from their homes in Carroll County each school day. There are pick-up points located in other counties and students are bussed in from the remaining four counties daily.
Sutton said the goal is to prevent delinquencies and help students develop healthy habits.
Students must adhere to a dress code. Females are required to play on the school’s basketball team. There is also a boys’ basketball team at the school.
ESPN and the New York Times featured the small basketball teams on a national level.
Hatch served as the coach of the girls’ basketball team and said, “Winning isn’t everything; the end goal is to succeed at life.” Throughout the years, 52 members of the girls basketball team are college graduates.
With Hatch’s departure, Hayley Ezell will move into the Athletics Director position. Tim Allen, a 30-year coach in Bradford, Trenton and Bartlett, will lead the boys basketball team. Kera Meggs, recipient of Bethel University’s Hutchins Award, will lead the girls basketball team. The Jaguars basketball teams are small in number, but mighty in discipline and heart.
Coaches also serve as educators at Carroll Academy. Many of the Academy’s educators teach multiple classes, even lending hands for the young men to learn how to properly tie a necktie as well as basic sewing. There are vocational classes and Sutton said she is hopeful to partner with more local vo-tech centers to offer even more options for students. She wants to see a CNA class, which will offer certification for students who complete the classwork.
Carroll Academy students are categorized by their “Levels” at the school, with 1 as the Beginning level and 5 as the Competency level. Once students work through the levels and reach Level 5, they are eligible for graduation.
Level 5 students demonstrate competency in the areas of anger management, problem-solving, positive self-esteem, role modeling, controlling behavior and communicating. The student must have a written plan that details how he/she intends to follow through with goals and how success can be maintained. This plan should include a list of positive leisure or recreational activities and a support system.
Carroll Academy has nine classrooms: seven High School classrooms for History, English, Math, Science, Personal Finance, Day Treatment Life Skills, Spanish, and Health and Wellness; and one Jr. High classroom for 6th, 7th, and 8th grades. Carroll Academy also has a Computer Lab, with computers donated by Connected Tennessee AT&T.
The campus is located in the north wing of the former Carroll County Hospital, adjacent to the county’s public library and office complex.
The school has a website, carrollacademy.com, and a social media presence on Facebook. For more information about the school, call the campus at 1-731-986-1350.