“I didn’t go to college right out of high school,” said the Washington County native. “I went to work and got married.”
A 1977 graduate of Jayhawk-Linn High School, Mound City, Smith started her post-high school education at Barton Community College in Great Bend in 1993 and with two young daughters in tow.
After earning her associate degree at Barton, she went on to earn her teaching degree in English and her teaching credentials from Fort Hays State University in 1997
Smith started teaching in January 1998 at Claflin, and continued there until her recent move to Centre. In the meantime, she started a master’s program in counseling at Fort Hays State in 2001, but had a change of heart about a quarter of the way through.
“I decided that really wasn’t where my interest was headed,” Smith said. “I didn’t pursue anything for a couple of years.”
In 2004 she went back to FHSU and started an administrator certification program.
“I’ve always been the type of person who enjoys new challenges,” Smith said. “My daughters had grown, and I was just kind of looking to the future and thinking I needed something new.
“I love education and didn’t want to get out of education. I decided that’s where I wanted to head.”
Smith completed her certification a year ago this past summer. The principalship at Centre High attracted her because of the school’s size.
“I attended a small school, I worked in a small school, my kids attended Ellsworth High School—that’s a little bit bigger, but not a great deal so,” Smith said. “I like the climate of a small school.”
Beyond her passion for students, Smith said she has a strong desire as principal to help teachers be all they can be.
“I’m very interested in teachers getting better—staff development,” she said. “That’s kind of my focus.”
Smith sees her overarching task, though, as promoting a positive school spirit.
“That is multi-faceted because school climate includes so much—how we communicate with the public, how we communicate internally, our expectations: Are we a school of professionals that have high expectations for ourselves and for our students?
“There’s behavior, of course, the way we treat each other. And character. All of those things are components of school climate.
“That’s my biggest passion, I guess.”
Smith said she’s right in step with the focus on “character education” that first-year superintendent Jerri Kemble has introduced.
“It’s kind of a grass-roots effort, pulling components from several different theories,” Smith said. “It’s a little bit of this and a little bit of that based mostly on the golden rule. We want to treat other people the way we want to be treated.”
Smith is the first woman to be the high school principal at Centre, but she said her gender hasn’t been an issue.
“I feel very welcomed and well received,” she said, adding with a chuckle: “Of course, it’s early in the year.
“Personally, I think I have a pretty good rapport with kids,” she added. “It’s just because I believe we should all interact with kids on an equal footing. It seems to work real well. I have a great deal of respect for kids and I think when kids sense that, it’s reciprocated.”
Smith said her transition from teacher to principal has been mostly anxiety-free.
“My anxieties were not about stepping into this role, but about leaving the classroom. I love teaching, and even though I was looking for a new challenge, I’ve gone through a bit of a grieving process in leaving the classroom.”
And she’s experienced at least one surprise.
“What has surprised me is that kids are the same wherever you go,” Smith said. “We’ve got great kids here, and I come from a school of great kids. There’s a lot of community support here, and a lot of family support. That’s good.”
Smith lives in the district-owned house adjacent to the high school campus.
“I’m right here next to the school, which is nice, because I have to drive a long ways to get anywhere else,” she said.
“I’m very excited to be here and feel I’m making inroads into the community and into the school system,” Smith added. “It’s a very comfortable and pleasant experience for me.”