“When this position opened up, I felt comfortable coming here,” said Smith, who began the assignment July 1. “These were all things that helped lead to the decision—but then also the big thing was moving closer to home.”
“Home” for Smith is actually Peabody, where his family moved from Fort Leavenworth in November 1983 after his father retired from the military. His father recently died, but his mother still lives in Peabody. He also has siblings and in-laws living within easier driving distance.
Smith graduated from Peabody-Burns High School in 1992, then went on to Kansas State University, where he earned two degrees, one in secondary education social studies and the other in secondary education geography.
Smith said he intended to earn an engineering degree when he enrolled at KSU.
“My first couple of years I was in engineering because my brother was an engineer,” he said. “Then I realized that’s probably not exactly what I wanted. I talked to my dad (about going into public education), and he said ‘Why do you want to do that? There’s no money in that.’
“I said, ‘I just want to be out there to serve and help people.’”
Smith said his father then asked him what his career goals were.
“I said, ‘Well, I’d like to be a teacher for five to 10 years, then a principal for five to 10 years, then become a superintendent.’”
Smith has followed that plan all but perfectly.
Coming out of K-State, Smith said he was offered the opportunity to teach in Wichita, but turned it down.
“Some superintendents I knew said go back and get a math endorsement,” he said. “So I substituted for the first year in the Peabody/Remington area and got my math endorsement, then went down and taught math in Argonia.”
He started teaching there in 1998, and also took on the duties of activities director. Around 2002, he followed the advice of his principal and began working on an administration degree through Friends University, which he completed in 2005.
Smith accepted his first assignment as a K-12 principal at Wilson, which is part of the Central Plains school district. He also served as director of the district’s virtual school program and its Title Funds program.
Smith earned a district level master of education degree from Friends in 2007 as he continued in those roles until accepting the position at Centre this summer.
His original career plan was accomplished, having worked seven years as a classroom teacher and eight years as a principal.
Aside from family issues, coming to Centre seemed to be a logical career move, based on his experiences.
“This position intrigued me because Wilson is very in-depth on technology, and when I looked at this district it had things similar that I was comfortable with,” Smith said. “The virtual school program is very similar to what I was running up there.
“And then being in Wilson, 30 miles north of the district (office), basically I had to be the quasi-superintendent because everybody else was so far away.”
Smith said the size of the Centre district is slightly bigger than the Wilson K-12 schools within the larger Central Plains district. Centre has around 220 students enrolled compared to Wilson’s 180; the teaching staff at Centre numbers 22 to Wilson’s 25.
Smith added that the virtual school program at Wilson had a full-time equivalency of 68 students last year, while Centre’s was around 98.
“The comfort level is there,” Smith said. “The majority of all these people grew up in small towns, so they all have a similar mentality of what to expect in a rural community.”
Smith said one of his first-year goals at Centre is getting a feel for the educational climate.
“Being in a K-12 setting, making sure elementary teachers work with the high school teachers and vice versa (is important),” he said. “In K-12, it’s very easy to do mentoring, bigger kids with the younger kids.
“And there’s a lot we can do with project-based learning activities that they’ve done here.”
Smith said he wants to explore the feasibility of beginning a program at Centre similar to the Rural Center School at Walton.
“I brought that down here to (board members) and they seemed interested,” he said. “Being in an agricultural setting and having a strong FFA program, I just think that would be a wonderful avenue to expand the program.
“There’s a lot of neat things we can do,” he added.
Smith said he also hopes to expand the use of technology within the district—and to communicate the district’s technology goals to patrons.
“We want to make sure it’s integrated correctly, and make sure taxpayer dollars are used effectively,” he said. “From what I’ve seen, I think they’ve done well.
“We just need to keep highlighting it and make sure the community knows what we’re doing—and do activities with them so they see we’re not just spending $100,000 on computers.”
Smith said his transition to Centre has been smooth, but also hectic. He said he had only seven days to prepare for his first school board meeting—in the midst of following the myriad summer activities of his three young daughters.
He and wife Nissa, who was a special education teacher while at Wilson, have been married for 16 years. Daughter Jordan will be in the seventh grade, Taylor in fifth grade and Audrey in second grade.
Nissa will be working at the Marion County Special Education Cooperative.
For fun and relaxation, Smith said the couple like to garden and play disc golf; he also likes to play a round of traditional golf when time allows. Meanwhile, the Smith girls are active in sports; they also show sheep in 4-H and love animals in general.
Smith said the family has found a rural home about 10 miles south of the school, bringing a welcomed end to his two-hour commute between Wilson and Centre.
“We’re excited about being down here,” Smith said. “I’m looking forward to meeting a lot of new people. If patrons have questions, feel free to give me a call.
“I’m ready for the challenge.”