HAMLET — When Principal Kate Smith was younger, she wanted to be a lawyer. She quickly realized, though, that the job wasn’t for her.
“As a child, I loved to argue,” she remembers. “But with being a lawyer, that’s a lot of debt and a lot of school time.”
But Smith remembered one good thing about her own school time: always feeling safe and protected. That helped guide her into education.
“School was a haven for me,” says Smith, this year’s Richmond County Schools Principal of the Year. “I loved being there, and that’s where I wanted to spend the rest of my life.”
Smith recalls her first job as a seventh-grade language arts teacher at Rockingham Junior High School.
She taught out of a trailer with another teacher. A partition ran down the middle of the mobile, splitting the classes.
After working there, Smith became an academic coach at two alternative schools before returning to Wingate University for her administration degree.
“I’ve had great mentors,” she says. “It was a myriad of styles and leadership. The more people you work for, the more you learn.”
Smith was an assistant principal at three schools: Mineral Springs Elementary, East Rockingham Elementary and Rockingham Middle. She went back to Mineral Springs to be principal for 3½ years, before her recent move to Monroe Avenue Elementary. It was her work at Mineral Springs that won her her most recent honor.
“I’m looking forward to learning the children and the community,” she says of the new assignment. “I’m also looking forward to working with a dedicated group of teachers who are dedicated to their students.”
Smith encourages teachers to post their students’ work around the school. Later, she’ll walk the halls to write comments on the papers: “Good job” or, maybe, “Excellent thinking.”
Every morning, she stands in the hallway to greet students clambering off the bus, and then again as they switch classes. In the afternoons, she’ll give students shout-outs for good behavior and work ethic.
“I try to be that positive, loving, caring person to the students all day,” she says. “I come here every day with a purpose to make it a good day. I love what I do, and I love being here.”
Smith calls her latest honor “humbling because every single principal in this district deserves it.”
“And the teachers at Mineral Springs,” she says, “they were dedicated to help raise student achievement. I just helped guide the ship.”
Smith says she’s looking forward to taking what she learned at Mineral Springs to Monroe Avenue.
“It takes a village,” she says, repeating a familiar term on rearing and educating children. “We all have to work together with a sense of urgency and a commitment to the kids to help them reach their maximum potential.”
Tears streamed down Smith’s face as she accepted Principal of the Year honors from administrator Dennis Quick last month.
Reach Jasmine Hager at 910-817-2675 or [email protected]