By Michaela Kron

When she was 22, Brittany Cunningham experienced an “a-ha” moment as a volunteer reader at Scott Lane Elementary School in Santa Clara, Calif.

“I just realized that I truly enjoyed working with students and I wanted to devote my life to working with students,” said Cunningham, 33.

Before that, Cunningham, who officially began as principal of Sequoyah Middle School in Doraville on July 1, worked as a financial analyst in Silicon Valley. After her experience as a volunteer reader, she entered the education field as a teacher in Oakland, Calif.

Cunningham moved to Atlanta in 2001 and spent three years working in Fulton County before teaching at Sequoyah and then serving as assistant principal there from 2006 until she was named principal this year, replacing Trenton Arnold.

“The awesome part about my experience is that I’ve been able to see Sequoyah probably at one of its lower points, but I’ve also been able to see Sequoyah through one of its best points, so it’s been exciting to see progression,” Cunningham said.

Sequoyah is the middle school that feeds into Brookhaven’s Cross Keys High School, and its student body includes graduates of Brookhaven’s Montclair and Woodward elementary schools.

As principal, Cunningham has a strong vision for Sequoyah, and one of her primary goals is for the school to be recognized as a Georgia School of Excellence this year.

“We want to be a school that not only is the community proud of, but is a premier school that is known for academic excellence,” Cunningham said. “I think we have some of the best teachers in DeKalb County.”

For the past four years, Sequoyah has been recognized as a Title I School of Excellence for achieving adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Cunningham also hopes to increase parental involvement at Sequoyah and will encourage parents to take advantage of the school’s parent center, which hosts workshops for parents and provides them with various educational materials. The center also offers an interpreter who is available to answer questions for Spanish-speaking parents.

In addition, Cunningham plans to implement solutions “with fidelity” from America’s Choice, an educational organization that offers comprehensive assistance to improve student achievement.

“I know where Sequoyah has been and where I’d like to see Sequoyah,” she said.

Cunningham believes that the DeKalb County School System has been receptive to Sequoyah’s needs, particularly by providing sufficient funds for resources such as interactive electronic Promethean whiteboards and for renovations to the school’s heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems.

During her time at Sequoyah, Cunningham said she has been “deeply committed” to the school community, particularly the students.

“The trials and tribulations that some of them have gone through and the success that they’ve attained really are inspirational to everyone,” she said.

As principal, Cunningham said she will work with the rest of the school’s faculty and staff to offer an environment that emphasizes perseverance, learning and hope for all students at Sequoyah.

“Middle school is such a critical time, and we have to get it right,” she said. “I’m glad to be working with a great staff. We’re all on the same page.”