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‘Excellence is a habit’

December 14, 2017

Rutherford County Schools

The operative question at Central Magnet School is what isn’t special about it?

Their average ACT score of 30.0 is the highest in the state. The school offers 29 advanced placement courses, and perhaps more importantly, every graduate leaves having taken at least four AP course. Most of those graduates took 10 and sometimes more, which allows them to graduate college a year early or double major and still finish within four years.

The 2016 graduating class collected a staggering $10 million in scholarship money.

“We feel like excellence is a habit,” said Dr. John Ash, who has been the principal at Central since it became a magnet school in 2010. “It’s a way of life.”

Ash added, “Academic success here is the common thread among students.”

Therein lies the basis for U.S. News & World Report naming Central the No. 1 school in Tennessee and the 37th best in the nation. In April, Central was also named the 10th best magnet school in the nation.

“Central is a special place,” said the understated Ash.

Central is one of three magnet schools – along with McFadden School of Excellence and Thurman Francis Arts Academy – offering a choice program to Rutherford County residents. The district also provides choice offerings at Oakland High School with its International Baccalaureate program, at Homer Pittard Campus School and Holloway High School.

Applications are currently available at Central Magnet and online, and the application deadline is Jan. 31 at 4 p.m.

Submission of an application does not guarantee acceptance, but once it has been processed, families will receive an email confirming its receipt. Applicants will be notified of their status — accepted, not accepted or waiting list — by mail no later than March 1.

“Academic success here is the common thread among students,” said Ash.

The school offers one of the top robotics programs in the state and an equally revered engineering program as well as a bio-medical program. The foreign language department offers five languages.

In addition to its academic standards, Ash said their exceptional fine arts program goes hand-in-hand with the level of expectations found at Central.

Graduates are also expected to complete a minimum of 25 hours of community service work. Though many of students, who are also involved in BETA Club and National Honor Society, complete in upwards of 100 hours, Ash said.

“They find a lot of ways to give back,” he added. “We’re proud of that.”

Seniors are also required to complete a thesis.

Emma Harris, who graduated this past May and is currently a freshman at Auburn University, studied how Smartphones have affected relationships for her generation. She laughed when asked what she discovered, which is hypocritical disdain for technology yet an unwillingness to give up the connection.

“Academically I feel like I’ve been challenged all these years,” Harris said. “With every challenge I’ve encountered along the way, I’ve always felt there were people here who wanted to help you achieve that.”

Central is one of the oldest schools in the county.

The current building was opened in 1950 following a fire that destroyed the original structure.

The school served as the primary high school in Murfreesboro until the opening of Riverdale and Oakland high schools in 1972, at which time Central was converted to a middle school.

Sixty years after its construction, Central became the district’s first magnet school serving grades 6-12 in 2010.

Through the years, graduates have gone on to become astronauts, like Rhea Seddon, and work in the White House. Roy Neel was President Bill Clinton’s deputy chief of staff after having worked for Tennessee native Al Gore Jr., who served as Clinton’s vice president.

Jeff Jordan and Jim Estes — both Central alumni — stayed local.

Jordan is currently the chairman for the Rutherford County Board of Education, while Estes is vice chairman.

Ash has a student handbook that was assigned to Dorris Jernigan, a former Rutherford County School Board member. In it, students only needed 16 units to graduate, including four units of English, one math, one history, one physical education, one biology and eight electives.

Tyler Houge recently graduated with five years of Spanish and another seven AP courses in a self-motivated effort to push himself to “another level” of academic achievement.

“It is challenging,” Houge said, but I like it because of it.”

He added, “Central is very unique in how people treat each other and how the teachers treat the students.”

“We have really good people here,” Ash concluded. “The most important thing is we’re turning out successes for the next generation. I have no doubt they’re going to be successful in everything they do.”