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Donald Smith impressed members of the Marion County Board of Education with his energy and enthusiasm, and last week, they voted unanimously to offer him the chance to become the next superintendent of Marion County Public Schools.
"The decision wasn't easy," board member Joe F. Mattingly said, "and there will be those in the district who will question our decision."
But Mattingly was comfortable with the outcome of the superintendent search.
"I really believe we've got a candidate [Smith] that has a whole lot to offer," he said. "He will throw his whole heart into the position."
Smith is scheduled to assume the post July 1, and when he does, he will become the first African-American male to serve as a superintendent in the state of Kentucky, according to the Kentucky Department of Education.
Smith said Friday that it was hard to explain how he feels.
"I'll forever be indebted to the Marion County Board of Education for giving me this opportunity to lead such a great district," he said.
Smith is a graduate of Western Kentucky University, and he received his master's degree, his Rank I and his superintendent certificate from Eastern Kentucky University.
His educational career started when he became a teacher at Dunbar High School in 1994. He moved to the Harrodsburg Independent School district in 1998 and then to Lafayette High School in 2000.
In 2001, Smith was named the head football coach at Kentucky State University. He served in that position for three seasons. (See related story, page A17.)
Between 2004 and 2006, he worked with youth agencies in central Kentucky. Smith said he spent much of that time working with juveniles through the Kentucky Alternative Program. The goals of the program are to work with offenders to satisfy court requirements and monitor probationer's progress, according to the program's website.
He then served as a liaison for the merger of Harrodsburg Independent and Mercer County Schools in 2006-07, and in 2007, he served as the principal at the Mercer County Alternative School and as assistant principal for the freshmen academy.
Smith is participating in the education department's Minority Superintendent Internship Program. Through that program, he was assigned to the Burgin Independent School District, but he has also done work in the Danville, Boyle County, Jessamine County and Fayette County school districts.
Richard Webb, the Burgin superintendent, has been impressed with Smith's work.
"He's a man of integrity, and I think that's the No. 1 issue," Webb said. "Integrity in his personal life and in his professional life."
Webb added that Smith had a lot of hands-on responsibilities as the assistant superintendent. Burgin is a small district with 475 students in preschool through 12th grade, but that also allowed Smith to be involved in every aspect of leading a district, according to Webb.
Webb compared the superintendent internship program to student-teaching. Smith had the chance to see what it takes to do the job while having the support of someone more experienced in that position.
Webb added that Smith will likely have the same issues any first-year superintendent would have.
"Once that responsibility falls on you, it's a different animal," Webb said.
He added that he has no doubt that Smith will be successful in Marion County.
Smith said he has been impressed with the warmth of the people of Marion County.
"My wife felt that, too," he said.
Smith added that he believes Marion County is a district in which people want the best for all students, and that's a belief he shares with the school board.
Sr. Kay Carlew, the school board chairwoman, said the board was impressed with Smith's "enthusiasm for children."
She added that he expressed a desire to be visible in the schools and in the community. She said he wants students, parents and teachers to know who he is and to know them. He also wants to be a visible resource for the business community in Marion County, Carlew said.
Smith said during his first two months on the job, he'll try to meet as many people as he can.
"I want to be open," he said.
Carlew added that Smith's work background was another positive.
"He had a whole range of experiences in the public schools," Carlew said. "We thought that would be a benefit, also."
Carlew added that the screening committee did a lot of background checks and information checks for the board.
Mattingly said he spoke with all of the original 15 applicants for the position, and he commended the screening committee for its work.
"There was no question the [committee] had picked four qualified candidates," he said.
The screening committee members were Lee Ann Divine (principal at Glasscock Elementary School), Bernard Miles (school board member), Sarah Martin (teacher), Daniel Mattingly (teacher), Pam Spalding (board secretary and classified employee representative) and Dot Caldwell (parent representative).
The other three finalists were Lisa Carroll, who is a highly skilled educator with the Kentucky Department of Education; Ed Musgrove, who is the superintendent in Clark County schools and worked as a superintendent for more than 20 years, mostly in Missouri; and Chuck Hamilton, former St. Charles Middle and Marion County High school principal and the district's finance and personnel director.
Mattingly reiterated that the board had a difficult decision, especially since the district already employs one of the strong finalists.
Smith said he does not want to change anything that is working well, but he will look for areas that can be improved.
He also acknowledged that one of his weaknesses is wanting to get things done "quick, fast, in a hurry," when he sometimes needs to be patient.
Board member Bernard Miles spoke about Smith's passion, his knowledge and the enthusiasm he'll bring to Marion County. Miles also believes that Smith will work to bring the community together as well.
"If people in the county really give him a chance and get behind him, he will be able to take us to the next level," Miles said.
Editor's note: Board members DeLane Pinkston and Alex Ackermann did not respond to requests for comments as of press time.
The Next Marion County Superintendent Donald Smith, 41 Wife: Collette Children: Charyse, 12; Donald II, 10; Calicia, 7