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Phoenix Academy HS Celebrates Anniversary at Annual Dinner

Every December, Phoenix Academy High School (PAHS) celebrates its close-knit community by hosting a dinner, and guests fill the holiday-decorated gym to enjoy fellowship and a generous, delicious meal provided by the Tabernacle Christian Center. Entering the gym, the smells of turkey, pork and collards greeted people as they arrived to festive music and long tables set with purple tablecloths and glittery Christmas trees. PAHS holiday meal

This year, the celebration held additional significance in marking the 10th anniversary of the transition from an alternative support program to a full high school. Although Phoenix Academy opened in 1998, using several trailers behind Lincoln Center, the current facilities next to Central Office were introduced to the community with a ribbon-cutting ceremony in 2008. 

In its prior format, led for years by Principal Burmadeane George, Phoenix Academy served as a supportive layover for students at risk of dropping out of high school, especially for long-term suspensions. But 10 years ago, the program became a diploma-granting high school, and students no longer faced the choice between returning to their “home” high school or dropping out. Although many students end up resuming their studies at one of the larger CHCCS high schools, four to eight students graduate from PAHS each January and June. 

School Social Worker, Gloria Sanchez-Lane, said, “Our students average staying here for two years, though some are here for three. Our goal is always to teach them the skills to return to their home schools and then into the world.”

When George retired, Dr. Laverne Mattocks-Perry served as PAHS principal. In 2012, John Williams took the helm. He has spread the word to all who will listen that PAHS is a family, and the symbol of the phoenix could not be more appropriate for the school community and the work they all do together to ensure second, third and nearly limitless chances.

J Williams at PAHS celebration In his welcome and opening remarks at the dinner, Williams said, “When I arrived in 2012, I learned when there is a child out there who is almost ready to give up and has given up all hope, Phoenix rises. When a family has tried every resource in the community to save their child, when a child is hurt and afraid to go to school any longer because of how they were treated, Phoenix rises. When hope is almost completely gone…Phoenix rises.”

Williams praised the faith held by families, staff and students. “We rise to the occasion. We rise repeatedly in every one of our children’s lives, who believed they didn’t have a chance.”

Sanchez-Lane said, “We love our school. Our kids all say they feel safe and nurtured here.”

Greg Carson has been with PAHS since he served an internship with Mattocks-Perry, and he now holds the title of achievement coach, as well as administrator of SPIRE (the evening classes at PAHS). He said his work at the school is “always a joy.” Carson and Williams started the tradition of the holiday community meal. “Let’s do it for the students and their families,” Williams said.

For the past three years, Carson and his church, Tabernacle Christian Center, have organized the event, with church members cooking and serving the meal for more than 100 people. Carson laughed when he said, “The members get so excited about the next community dinner, they start planning in August. We want students to know we care. We may be an alternative high school, but our students deserve as much as anyone. We tell them, You deserve the best.”