By GRAYSON LEE MAXWELL
Rutherford County Schools
When it comes to success, Central Magnet School has a lot to offer students in academics and extracurricular opportunities. But according to principal Dr. John Ash, that’s not what makes the school unique.
“What makes us unique is our teachers and students,” Ash said. “They are extremely focused and have clear expectations about what success is and what makes them feel successful. They work very hard to do everything they do.”
Central Magnet is in its 13th year of operation, but the high school has operated for quite some time. The original school stood near Murfreesboro square but burned in 1944. The replacement building was completed in 1950 and CMS occupies that ‘newly’ constructed building.
Brianna Rankin is a senior at Central Magnet School who agreed that student success makes the school unique — but also the variety of students who attend.
“We have all sorts of kids. While the vast majority of our students are intelligent — taking several AP classes and succeeding in several clubs — these same students are accomplished in so many other aspects of their life. Here at Central we have bowling champions, chess masters, future nurses, part-time workers, and soccer super-stars,” said Rankin.
Academically, CMS has a reputation for success. This year the school had 24 national merit semifinalists – about 11 percent of the state’s total. This reputation, Ash insisted, is due to the hard work of CMS students.
“Our average ACT score for seniors will be over 31 when all is said and done. We had seven students who got a perfect score. We have had students at virtually every university in America and most of them are doing really, really well,” said Ash.
Students also complete capstone projects similar to a college dissertation before they graduate. They talk to an expert in the field and then present it to the school and local community.
“The goal on it is that they learn more,” explained Ash. “I wanted the kids to come out of and say, ‘yep that’s what I wanted to do’ or ‘no, that’s probably not for me.’ Either way I feel it's successful. We’ve had students deliver babies; we’ve had cancer research. One of our former student's thesis was on drones versus pilots in combat — she flies an F15 now. She’s an Air Force graduate.”
Rankin oriented her capstone project to raise money for special education classroom STEM kits. As of mid-January, her team has raised almost $20,000, and organized a STEM fair to allow students to share their passion for robotics, aviation, and health sciences with others.
“My partners and I are all incredibly passionate about STEM-- all of us being presidents of several STEM based clubs at our school-- so we planned this STEM fair to pass our passion on to the next generation of students,” said Rankin.
CMS has high expectations for students, including community service requirements, but students have shown they can meet these expectations and exceed them.
Culturally the school carries an air of competitiveness. Students want to do the best and are often competing with peers for awards or honors. Competitive edge aside, Ash said the culture at CMS is more relaxed than a lot of schools.
“Our students don’t feel the need to lock their lockers. Students concentrate on what's important and we work hard not to interfere with class time,” Ash said. “We have pep rallies and things like that, but our focus is academics and our kids. We take a lot of pride in that, and we’ve been successful. Our motto is ‘always my best.’”
Rankin added that despite the competition, students also are there for each other, giving support where it's needed.
“The culture is incredible at Central,” Rankin said. “Not only do students all respect each other, but they help each other even if they barely know each other. I can recount several times where I have seen a student working on homework after school and several students wander up and start to help.”
Whether it's academics or sports, the school’s motto carries through all aspects of CMS. Students and teachers alike are expected to show up and give their best.
“A lot of people think it’s easy,” said Ash. “Kids behave, and they do behave, but where you don’t have to worry as much about classroom management, you have to be on top of your game. Our teachers have a lesson every single day — and it is a good lesson. Our students demand it, they require it, and our teachers do a great job.”