Brownsburg Superintendent Jim Snapp Talks BHS Memories, Culture & Empowering Teachers & Students
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Photography / Brownsburg Community School Corporation
Sometimes following your passion leads you right back home. Such was the case for Jim Snapp, a 1980 graduate of Brownsburg High School who returned in 2010 to accept the job as Superintendent of the Brownsburg School Corporation. Snapp, who has worked in the field of education for more than 34 years as teacher, principal, assistant principal and now superintendent, was thrilled to return to Brownsburg.
“I always said, ‘If I could ever go home, that would be great,’” says Snapp, who credits the phenomenal education he received to the career path he chose.
“I’m in education because of how the educators in Brownsburg supported me when I was a student,” says Snapp, whose mom passed away when he was just 13. As he navigated his grief, teachers and coaches encircled him with care. One of those teachers was Jon Dunn, his social studies teacher and the school’s basketball coach.
“I was an awkward, gangly kid, but Coach Dunn recruited me to play,” Snapp says. “He knew that I needed the team more than the team needed me.”
Snapp also loved theatre, though he admits he wasn’t very good at it. That didn’t stop the drama teacher, Betty Randall, from casting him in the school play.
“She told me I could play the lead — Harvey, the invisible rabbit,” says Snapp with a chuckle.
By the time he was a senior in high school, Snapp had his mindset to become a principal. He worked as an assistant principal for three years and principal for 11 years before switching gears.
“The tipping point came when I was a principal and we needed an instructional assistant, which is a fairly economical position,” Snapp says. “I knew the district had enough money to get one and that doing so would have a tremendous impact on the students and teachers.”
The request was denied, and a fire was lit beneath him to get into a position where he could remove roadblocks teachers face.
“Now when people tell me they need certain things for kids, I find a way to get them,” Snapp says. “As superintendent, my purpose is to help our teachers by reducing class sizes, providing instructional resources and making sure they have great facilities. This frees teachers up to focus on teaching and developing positive relationships with kids.”
Snapp is proud of Brownsburg’s stellar academic performance as students do well when it comes to graduation rates, academics honors diplomas, advanced placement class enrollment and ISTEP scores (ranking number one in the state for the past three years both in math and language arts).
Then there are the clubs, organizations and sports teams the district offers that help amplify the full schooling experience — band, choir, theatre, athletics, art, photography, robotics and the list goes on.
“Students can find their people here,” Snapp says. “Sometimes you need to find your people in order to find your comfort zone.”
When students graduate, they look back fondly on their time in Brownsburg. Vicki Murphy, Coordinator of Communications for Brownsburg Community School Corporation, notes that the district sends out a survey to alumni six months after they graduate to get a pulse on their feelings.
“What we find is that they miss more about high school than they anticipated,” Murphy says. “They recall that successful choir performance or that high-energy game. Mostly, they remember the community they created within that group that can’t be duplicated outside of high school.”
That sense of community is part of the culture of the schools. One unique thing the district does for its high school students is called “teaming” where a group of adults is assigned to follow a certain number of students throughout their four years of high school (they do something similar in middle school). This group, which consists of an assistant principal, two guidance counselors, an academic coach and an administrative assistant, is designed to ensure that no student gets lost in the shuffle. They not only make sure their students are on track for graduation but they also help get them placed after high school in college, vocational work or the military. Most importantly, they act as the students’ biggest cheerleaders.
“This group of people keep track of their kids and check in with one another, saying, for instance, ‘Johnny looked tired when I saw him. Did you talk to him lately?’” Snapp says. “Having that group of adults know you and check in on you regularly makes a big school seem smaller.”
But make no mistake — Brownsburg High School is a big school. In fact, out of 460 high schools in the state, it’s the 13th largest.
“When I graduated from here in 1980, there were 1,200 students,” Snapp says. “Now there are 2,800.”
Due to the growth, through the years the building, originally erected in 1971, has undergone 13 additions.
“It’s like rings on a tree, renovation after renovation,” Murphy says.
Finally, it became clear that a major overhaul was necessary. Currently, the district is halfway through a massive 40-month expansion to the high school.
“While this renovation has been inconvenient for the students, they have been troopers,” Murphy says.
Estimated to be complete in the summer of 2020, it will feature an upgraded auditorium, cafeteria, science labs and more spacious hallways.
“Our hallways have been jam-packed. But the hallways and common spaces are all going to be large enough to accommodate 4,000 kids,” Snapp says. “We’ll never be pinched for space again.”
In addition to the high school construction project, the district also opened Lincoln Elementary in the fall of 2018 — the first new school in a decade.
It’s reason to celebrate, which the Brownsburg community enjoys doing.
“It’s fun seeing parade lines four and five people deep for the Fourth of July,” Snapp says. “This is the kind of thing that makes our town unique when compared to other communities our size.”
The same is true of the homecoming parade, which Snapp loves attending. For starters, it’s during his favorite season when he spends hours outdoors engaged in projects on the nine-acre piece of land he owns with his wife Betsy, an elementary principal in Speedway. One project they did was renovate a barn on their property that was built in 1890. They’ve hosted several family events in that barn, including their daughter’s wedding. In addition, Snapp invites Brownsburg staff and spouses out for shuffleboard, ping pong, corn hole and darts.
“We grill out, go on a hayride and have a bonfire,” Snapp says. “It’s my wife’s and my way of showing staff how much we appreciate them. Plus, it builds camaraderie.”
Brownsburg employs 1,100 people, and Snapp works hard to know them all by name. He admits that the Brownsburg School Corporation holds high expectations for its staff.
“What I’ve found is people who like that challenge are drawn here and stay here, and those who don’t like to be pushed professionally opt out on their own,” Snapp says. “Our results speak to that culture. Our people are all in. They pour themselves into our kids. I don’t know that too many of our employees consider this a job because they love what they do so much.”