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How has your day been today (March 31)?
Donald Smith: It's been an outstanding day. I didn't know what to expect, but I think this is the right way to do it. I had a chance to tap into some people that are interviewing me. The way I look at it, I have a chance to interview them, too, because they call it a right fit. And I understand that. So far, I feel like I fit in with everybody. They've bought into my vision and goals, and I bought into what they had to say, too. I think it's been a great day.
What do you think you've learned from today?
DS: I'll just reiterate what I said earlier, that this is a community, a district, that I could see myself working in and living in. The people are wonderful. I've gotten to meet them again. They want to do what's right by kids, and that's what I was looking for in a district and a community that was ready to embrace all kids. And so far, I've experienced that. I see that, so I'm real excited about that.
As you know Senate Bill 1 was signed into law last week (March 26) by the governor. How do you see that affecting education in Marion County and public education in Kentucky in general?
DS: Being the positive person I am, I see it as a great opportunity that we can continue to do the great things that are going on in Marion County and beyond. I'm going to take it as three years to set a new standard. You know, that's what the state set. Why can't we go beyond what the state has set? That's what I'm trying to get everybody that I talk to, to see. Embrace it. It's an opportunity to move beyond that. We're just going to continue to work hard and do what's best for kids. My goal has always been the same, whether a senate bill or not a senate bill, we're doing what's right for all kids, and we're educating all kids. That's what I think we can continue to do with Senate Bill 1 or without it. We still have to do that.
You had prior teaching experience before you got into more administrative stuff. What do you think you learned from your time in the classroom that would help you in the superintendent position?
DS: One of the things that I've learned is the hard work and the discipline of a teacher. You bring that same tenacity at each level you go up. I didn't let my kids have excuses, so therefore I'm not going to allow my teachers, as a principal, to have excuses. Therefore, now becoming a superintendent ... now that I got the top spot, you hold quite a few more people accountable. And I think that's my main thing. The one thing that I truly can bring to the whole entire community/district is I'm able to hold people accountable to do what's right by all kids.
You coached [football at Kentucky State] for a couple of years. What do you think you learned from that experience that would carry over?
DS: There are so many similarities to a superintendency and being a university head coach. I think it's kind of interesting. I did some research, and I was just talking to somebody about this, I could probably be on the cusp of being the only one that's ever done that in the county - you know, a guy that was at one time a college head coach. And what I really learned about it is how you have to be able to be available to everybody because as a superintendent, like as a head coach, you belong to the whole university. You belong to the community, and I think that's one of the things that's really helped me embrace this opportunity now that's come about. You have to make yourself available, be out there and be able to tap in and reach all the resources that are made available to you.
Now, you are part of the superintendent internship program. As I understand it, you are visiting a lot of different districts, different sizes and such. What are you getting out of that experience, and how do you see Marion County compared to some of those other districts you've been in?
DS: After visiting all the districts, one of the things that I've truly learned is the state came up with, for school improvement, those nine ISLLC [Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium] standards ... There's nine standards that they talk about. After visiting all these schools and being in this program, I have been able to narrow it down. All high-performing, thriving districts have these, in this order: Standard Seven, which is leadership; Standard Four, which is the climate/cultural piece; and Standard Three, which is the instructional piece. That's what I've really been able to glean from this, to tap in and see superintendents in some great districts that are doing it right. It all starts from the top, that leadership, the superintendent, that flows to the central office staff. It flows to its principals and flowing to the teachers. It flows to the students and gets the community involved. I think that's what you do. Every one [school district] that I've been to that's been successful has had that in it. They've had the leadership component. They've had the culture and climate component, and they've had that instructional component. You can't get around it; you just can't. And that's what I think I would bring. Like I shared with the principals and the staff, everybody I've talked to today, the thing about Marion County is they already have those three things in place. So now, the thing about this job, it's just coming in, sitting down with the people and just seeing what other areas do they feel like they really need to work on. And then, go to work on that, and get those areas to where these three areas are. If you do that, then the goal and the mission of this district to be a top 10 district in the state of Kentucky and to be a flagship community, and I think your education sets that tone for all of the possibilities and opportunities that can come out of this district because of all the things that Marion County already has in place.
Anything else you'd want to add?
DS: I think it's kind of interesting what you're telling me because I feel pretty good about what I've went through. Now, I guess the hard part is talking with the board. I'm excited. I wouldn't change this opportunity that I've been given to make it this far. It's just exciting times in my life right now. I just appreciate it that the Marion County school board saw fit to give me this opportunity to interview me.
- Interview by Stephen Lega, news editor