Nurtures Students’ Goals and Passions
By Brenda Porter-Rockwell
Photos by Chris Miller/Trinity Episcopal School
Children often dream of a myriad of occupations before finding the passion that eventually informs their career choice. That wasn’t the case for Imana Sherrill, the new head of school at Trinity Episcopal School (TES). Even as a young child, Sherrill wanted to be an educator.
“I think I must have found my love for teaching when I was a child,” Sherrill recalled. “I remember ‘playing school’ and always wanting to teach and be supportive of my friends. There was something about helping others and making myself available to others that just felt good to me from a very young age.” She never lost that desire to teach and mold young minds.
Answering a call
A Charlotte resident, Sherrill graduated from West Charlotte High School, received a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and a master’s degree in education from Pepperdine University.
She began her career as an educator at Chantilly Montessori School (formerly the Chantilly Visual and Performing Arts School). Sherrill worked for almost 15 years at Charlotte Country Day School. She later moved into the role of head of middle school at the Episcopal Academy in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, before returning home to Charlotte as head of school at TES last summer. When Sherrill visited Trinity Episcopal School, she immediately felt like she was meant to be there. She felt the school was calling her, she said.
“It was … the school that attracted me to the role. I knew that I was ready to have a greater impact and reach the kids, but I also wanted to do it in a place that was in alignment with my values,” Sherrill explained.
According to Sherrill, she didn’t see a school in need of change. Instead, she saw an institution with “deep roots” and a “strong foundation” she could build upon.
“I want to make sure we have the tools and resources we need to continue to create scholars, nurture spirituality and embrace diversity. I want to make sure we continue to give our students a unique experience where our hallways stretch directly into the heart of Uptown Charlotte,” she said.
Showing Up authentically
As TES’ third head of school and first Black woman to lead the institution, Sherrill said she had two priorities in taking the position: to challenge and nurture students and, just as important, she wanted to share her commitment to equity, inclusion and belonging.
“I am blessed to have had ancestors that learned how to read when their very lives were at risk … who later became educators and taught in schools with the least resources because they knew the importance of an excellent education,” Sherrill said. “I always keep them close and never want to let them down. I stand on their shoulders.” To that end, she said she has always shown up as her true, authentic self as a teacher, administrator and in every position of leadership she has held.
“If I felt the need to code switch, then I knew that was probably not the place I needed to be,” Sherrill said. “I have been the ‘first’ or the ‘only’ throughout my life. I look back to what my mother and grandmother would always remind me of – and that was that I only had one chance to make an impression. That I don’t get a second chance to present my best self and that I needed to do it the first time and every time after that.”
Nurturing students, staff and the community
Having had strong mentors in her personal and professional life, Sherrill has learned to lead with love. “Leading for me is about love first. It’s personal. I care about the journey of each and every one of our students,” said Sherrill. Of course, she wants to instill a spirit of intellectual curiosity in her students and help them strive for academic excellence — but leading with love is more than that. Sherrill said she wants to ensure students are prepared for what’s next outside the classroom.
“It matters more to me that they are good human beings with a strong moral compass and a desire to help others.”
Community connections was baked into TES’ approach to learning. The school was intentional about not having a library on its campus. Instead, students walk to ImaginOn: The Joe & Joan Martin Center in Uptown Charlotte, utilizing the learning center’s resources as an extension of the school. She also envisions hands-on learning opportunities by partnering with businesses and organizations that call Uptown Charlotte home. She said her students are “curious learners,” who ask about the jobs people do in those “big buildings’ Uptown.
“They want to know how and where to feed all of their passions both inside and outside of school. We have the opportunity to partner with our neighbors that other suburban schools do not,” she said. And it’s not just the students she intends to nurture. She plans to invest just as much love and intentionality in her school staff.
“One of my favorite books is “If You Don’t Feed the Teachers, They Eat the Children.” Our students are ‘known and loved’ and so is our “Staculty”(“Staculty” is a Trinity term that combines “faculty” and “staff.”),’” said Sherrill.
“They are committed to our students in ways that I have never seen at any other school. They are incredibly dedicated,” said Sherrill of her staff.
“My grandmother told me that the love is in the details. I try to make sure that [staff] are seen, heard and valued every single day. I have an open door policy and it means everything to me that they know they can come talk to me about anything at any time.”
On the job for less than a year, Sherrill already knows what she wants her tenure at TES to look like now and in the future. have looked like. “I hope to imprint a legacy of always putting kids first and having stayed mission and core values-focused.”