Principal April Sneed discusses school’s turnaround success after being on state list for assistance four years ago
By GRAYSON LEE MAXWELL
Rutherford County Schools
Whitworth-Buchanan Middle School is the first school in Rutherford County to be named a model school by the International Center for Leadership and Education.
Schools are chosen by ICLE based on their rapid improvement and ability to present streamlined and straightforward strategies to help other schools achieve success. The application process is very rigorous, involving a written application, multiple panel interviews and other screening processes.
Despite the challenges, Principal April Sneed and her team have accepted the role of leading not only Whitworth-Buchanan Middle, but also the ICLE role as mentor to struggling schools across the nation.
“What they, [ICLE] does, is connect schools across the nation with their model schools. So, there may be a school in another state partner with us as they deal with something similar to what we overcame,” Sneed said.
Principal Sneed took leadership of Whitworth-Buchanan four years ago, at a time where the school was listed by the state as needing targeted support and improvement.
“I knew we were on a list we needed to get off. And I knew how much our students needed that. How much our teachers needed that,” Sneed said. “There was just a lot of improvement needed — from daily environment to instruction. The basic thing I focused on doing was creating a safe and orderly environment.”
Sneed began her career as a seventh grade English language arts teacher at Rock Springs Middle. She also taught at Cedar Grove and worked as assistant principal at Rockvale Middle for eight years.
The journey to becoming a model school was not an easy one. But after four years, Sneed and her team of teachers and leaders have created an environment which ICLE recognizes as something truly unique.
“They look for the three R’s — rigor, relevance, and relationships,” Sneed said. Most of my career has been in middle school. And just knowing middle school students, I know they want structure. They want a foundation where they can go into a classroom and learn. We intentionally set out to create that environment.”
Principal Sneed also explained that her team is so integral to the success Whitworth-Buchanan has achieved. Her assistant Principal Chris Butner wrote the application to become a model school. Rebecca Cousin, in additional to her everyday leadership, helped present at the model school conference.
Not only that – but all the students contributed at Whitworth-Buchanan. After all, students are the real power behind the change Whitworth-Buchanan has seen. Without their hard work and dedication, the school would not be what it is today, the principal said.
“We have a common mission,” Sneed said. “It’s a collective mission to provide all the opportunities that we can for students. So, we continue that through difficult and challenging times. But we keep forging ahead and get better every day. All of us, together.”