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Braden River High to welcome new principal

Wendell Butler wants to create the opportunity for students to become the best version of themselves.

Wendell Butler
Wendell Butler
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After Wendell Butler graduated from Western Maryland College in 2003, he returned home to Bradenton in limbo.

He wasn’t sure if he wanted to take the Law School Admission Test so he could take the next step into his future. 

Butler reconnected with his former wrestling coach, Bob Thomas, at Southeast High School, who asked Butler to help him coach freshman football at the high school.

Seeing the way Butler connected with the students, Thomas suggested he become a teacher. 

“I looked at him sideways, and I was like, ‘What? I’m going to school to be a lawyer. A teacher? What?'” Butler said.

Thomas told Butler that a lot of kids at the school could use good role models.’”

It was at that moment Butler decided to become a substitute teacher. He didn’t know it would lead to 20 years in education and to him being named in May as the principal at Braden River High School. 

During his education career, Butler has served as a football coach, wrestling coach, swim coach, substitute teacher and history teacher. With his strong passion for politics and policy, he said he wanted to use his undergraduate degree in political science and international relations to pursue an administrative position within the School District of Manatee County. 

So Butler received his master's degree in educational leadership and worked as an assistant principal at Southeast High until 2017 when he became principal at Bayshore High School.

“You don’t know what you don’t know about your true leadership until the decisions that are made really fall at your desk,” he said. “It’s different being an assistant principal. Now every decision that’s made at this facility, I have to own it. The next seven years at Bayshore was me finding my leadership, finding how to encourage and inspire kids, families and teachers to do the work of getting kids prepared for life and graduation.”

Butler said he wants to “create space and opportunity for people to grow and become the best version of themselves” just as people had done for him as he began his career. 

Growing up in Bradenton, Butler has witnessed firsthand the growth of the community. Butler has worked with teachers and administrators who were his teachers and administrators in school. He said he has friends who have been or will be his students.

“As developing as (Manatee County) is, it’s still very small, especially when you’ve been here all your life and you connect with people who have also been here for a majority of their life,” Butler said. 

During his seven years at Bayshore High, Butler said he saw the school community grow and come together when needed. He recalled when a student died, and the school wanted to support the student’s family. Butler said he challenged the student body that if students raised more than $2,500, he would shave his head on campus on a live video link so everyone could watch. 

In a day, the students raised at least $4,000. Butler brought in his clippers and followed through on his promise. 

“I wouldn’t have traded that for the world because in that moment, kids got to see what it was like to not only support someone who was in need but they got to see what the community could feel like. Everyone rallied around something that brought joy out of tragedy. They got to see the humanistic side of adults in their principal,” Butler said. 

Butler said he looks forward to the challenge and experience of joining a new school community.

“I’m looking forward to being able to look at it with my eyes wide open, my hands empty and my heart open to receive what it is and where it is and partner with everyone within the school, the stakeholders and community members to take the school to the next level,” he said. 

Butler described himself as a quiet person, which he said allows him to be an observer. He said he thinks deeply about everything, which helps him to build intentional relationships and make informed decisions. 

“I’m still very much vocal and commanding in all things that I need to do because that’s the environment, role and space I live in as school principal, but I like peace, quiet and serenity,” he said. “You refuel and recharge on that because you get to collect your thoughts and think through all the chaos and madness and put things from mind to pad in a sense so you can stay focused and relevant in the work that needs to be done.”

Although he said he’s quiet, Butler said he often is heard singing or humming a tune. 

Butler said he also likes to work with his hands. Whether it’s making modifications to his Jeep or building a subwoofer, Butler said he loves doing the research needed to learn how to do something himself. 

It’s his research and hands-on projects, as well as the fact he’s working toward earning his doctorate, that he said makes him a lifelong learner. 

“If I can do it, then I don’t need to ask someone else to do it for me,” Butler said. “We as humans have the ability to do a lot of things, if we put our mind to it, and I truly believe that.”



Liz Ramos

Liz Ramos covers education and community for East County. Before moving to Florida, Liz was an education reporter for the Lynchburg News & Advance in Virginia for two years after graduating from the Missouri School of Journalism.

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