‘I had a team and I had teachers who were ready for change’

May 23, 2024

Rutherford County Schools

Five years ago in the spring of 2019, Whitworth-Buchanan Middle School school’s performance was struggling, and it was labeled by the Tennessee Department of Education as a school needing targeted assistance.  

When April Sneed hit the ground in July 2019 as the new principal, she knew it was time to write a different story about the school. 

With the help of her leadership team, teachers, students and parents, the school is now known for its high expectations and student performance, along with a growing list of accomplishments, awards and honors. 

The most recent award, which was announced earlier this spring, is the Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence Lighthouse School award. 

“There is a team behind me and a team beside me, and we work together to make our school the best learning environment for our students,” Sneed said. 

To earn the award, schools must complete and submit an extensive portfolio of documentation detailing student performance data and information about the school’s academic program and structure. 

A team of assessors then visits the school for a rigorous review process of nine performance areas — Student Focus and Support; School Organization and Culture; Challenging Standards and Curriculum; Active Teaching and Learning; Technology Integration; Professional Community; Leadership and Educational Vitality; School, Family, and Community Partnerships; and Indicators of Success. 

The assessors also conducted surveys of all stakeholders, including employees, parents and students, pertaining to these performance indicators. 

The school then receives a report of the findings and must either provide evidence of completion for any areas of concern or a plan of corrective action. 

For Whitworth-Buchanan, the school passed six of the indicators immediately. The school leadership team then submitted the required evidence for the other three areas, and two weeks later, was notified the school had earned the award. 

“This was a very intensive process to go through this,” said assistant principal Chris Butner.  

The school leadership team will travel to Orlando in December to officially receive the award. 

“Most of our Blue Ribbon schools are schools that are magnet schools, and so to have one of our traditional schools — especially one that five years ago was on the state takeover list — in a short five years is a testament to your team and your leadership,” Director of Schools Dr. Jimmy Sullivan said during the award announcement. 

The Blue Ribbon award is one of several the school has earned under Sneed’s leadership. 

Whitworth-Buchanan was named a model school by the International Center for Leadership and Excellence; It was named a “Reward School” last year by the Tennessee Department of Education; the school has earned a performance Level 5 for growth in every category and comprehensively for the past three years. Level 5 is the highest level offered by Tennessee. In addition, Sneed was named a finalist for Tennessee Principal of the Year in 2022. 

When asked about the secret to her success, Sneed responded:

“There is no secret. It was just a lot of hard work. I had a team and I had teachers who were ready for change.”

Middle school coordinator Barbara Powers notes that Sneed turned around the school by creating a culture where students and educators want to thrive. 

“Mrs. Sneed takes great pride in the students,” Powers said. “She enjoys celebrating grades, behavior, and student involvement. She commends her staff for providing opportunities for students through quality instruction, positive relationships, and a sense of community.”

Powers added: “When students leave WBMS, they are excited and ready for high school.”

As part of the Blue Ribbon Lighthouse award, Whitworth-Buchanan will now serve as a mentor for other schools who wish to pursue the process.

To learn more about the school, visit wbm.rcschools.net.