Nearly five months ago, former Middle School Principal Dr. Kevin Smith was unanimously elected as the new Superintendent of Bethel Public Schools. Earlier this month, Wildcat Word had the opportunity to sit down with the newly appointed Superintendent and catch up with him and ask him some questions about his new position.
Wildcat Word- Tell us a little about your childhood and where you were raised.
Dr. Kevin Smith- I grew up in a small in a small town in upstate New York called Ballston Spa. It’s actually very similar demographically to Bethel, so when I came here a few years ago, I felt very much at home. I grew up with four siblings: one brother and three sisters. We were always competing for bathrooms (laughs) and competing in sports and participating in all sorts of activities.
Wildcat Word- Tell us a little about your family.
Dr. Smith- Well, I am a happily married father of five. My wife Jennifer and I actually first met at Marist College some years ago. We have had the opportunity to parent and raise five great children. My son, Connor, is six and the oldest of the bunch. He’s in first grade now, so I’m currently just beginning the journey of a parent of school-aged children. My Daughter, Kaylee, is four but will soon be turning five next month. My son Liam is three, and I have two twin 16-month-olds named Sawyer and Avery. As you can imagine, life around my house tonight is very busy. But it’s been great, and we try to have a lot of fun with them.
Wildcat Word- Why did you initially get into education?
Dr. Smith- When I was 18 and I was on my way to college, I had planned on majoring in political science. I thought that my path was to graduate college, attend law school, become a lawyer, and possibly one day work within the government in Washington, D.C.
Not too far from here, I attended Marist College in Poughkeepsie. While there, I was introduced to the Marist Brothers, whom were a Catholic religious teaching order. Although small, their mission was to educate young men and women and help mold future leaders. Through my association with the Marist Brothers, I was encouraged to work alongside them and volunteer teach before going off to law school and proceeding down that path.
While working with the order, some experiences I had included working out on a Native American reservation, working near the Mexican border in Texas, and working in a few inner-city schools over in Massachusetts and in New York. Through that experience as a volunteer teacher, I fell in love with education. After my first three months as a first-year teacher, I found it was a very difficult job, yet I knew I had definitely made the right decision.
Wildcat Word- What first brought you to Bethel?
Dr. Smith- Well, before I worked here in Bethel, I was principal of a very large Catholic elementary school in the Bronx. I loved my former job at Sacred Heart. It had been great. What captured my attention (about Bethel) was something that Dr. Chesley wrote: “Do you want to work in a great district? Call me,” and listed his phone number. We’re talking about a national publication that goes out to thousands of educators all over the country and there is the number to this desk phone right here. I couldn’t resist, I called and asked “What’s going on in Bethel?” I had already been familiar with the town so when Dr. Chesley and I conversed, we found that we were very much in sync in terms of ideals and what we wanted to accomplish as educators. I prepared my application, went through the interview process, got the job as principal at the middle school, and have really been in love with the Bethel community since that time.
Wildcat Word- As former principal of Bethel Middle School, talk about any accomplishments or achievements during your tenure.
Dr. Smith- First of all, I think the quality of the staff at the middle school is just exceptional. In the five and half years I was there, I worked really hard to do three things.
Number one, to really bring that staff together and create a true community of professional learners. It was one of my primary goals because I believe fervently that we accomplish much more as a team than we could individually.
Number two, it was important to me to take every opportunity to hire some of the best educators I could find in Connecticut. I worked with a couple of other administrators as we searched all over the state trying to recruit good teachers and I think we’ve hired some quite exceptional ones.
The third area was trying to provide a really strong professional development program for the middle school’s existing staff and to work hard raising the levels of expectation and rigor there. I wanted people to focus on really understanding and accomplishing the mission of mid-level education. These were some of my goals and I think we are achieving those very same ones.
Wildcat Word- Is there anything specifically that you are excited about after taking this new position?
Dr. Smith- What I’m most excited about is where we are in our progress. I think we’re on the cusp of doing some great things, especially with the use of instructional technology. My primary focus is to put as much cutting-edge technology into the hands of our teachers. I, myself, am immersed in the technology, and use lots of applications. My goal at the middle school and all our other schools in fact, is to put that technology in the hands of teachers and have them truly transform the instructional model so it’s more engaging for students. Students can interact digitally to create opportunities beyond the school day through the use of these applications.
Wildcat Word– What has been the biggest change during your transition from a Principal to a Superintendent?
Dr. Smith- The biggest change has probably been my perspective. When you’re in a school, that is your ocean, so what you see is the world that you live in. Coming from the middle school to the central office and serving as Superintendent, I have a much broader perspective and a much wider body of constituency to whom I’m responsible for.
I’ve had a wonderful time getting to know members of the Board of Education. I can tell you that they are top-notch and they are all committed to the student and the mission of education here in Bethel. Sitting in a meeting with people like Mr. Knickerbocker, our First Selectman, I had the opportunity to meet with the Board of Finance the other night. These are all publicly elected officials who are very closely aligned with doing what’s best for Bethel.
It’s been a big change for me having such close contact with these individuals. I’ve been meeting with many more community members and attempting to show up at every parent event that I can find on the calendar to introduce myself and to talk to the people about the many great things that that we’re doing here. I’m putting my best effort forward to stay connected with the students at these schools because for me, that is the most important thing. As a principal, it was easy to walk out of my office and see 800 students wandering the halls and being able to visit them whenever I wanted. Now, I have to get in a car in order to visit, but I’ve been able to put that into my schedule almost every day. That’s just one change I’ve been adjusting to.
Wildcat Word- Are there any important concerns near the top of your agenda at the moment?
Dr. Smith- At the very top of my agenda is the thing that I both go to sleep and wake up thinking about. That would be the town of Bethel’s budget right now. School budgets are the monetary expression of our values. This is an unusual year because there has been a larger than typical increase in our annual budget expenditure proposal. Last year, we took advantage of some of the federal funding that was offered to all schools, buying down the budget increase last year to preserve teaching jobs. I’m hoping that residents, parents, and you, as students, will really take the time to understand what the budget means, why the increases are what they are, and to really understand what we’re asking for. I want people to really understand what is necessary to continue the mission of education here in Bethel because it’s very important.
Wildcat Word- If you were to meet with other Superintendents from around Connecticut, what three words would you use to describe our district?
Dr. Smith- Here’s what I would say: We are a very hard working district. Exemplary would be the second, and passionate would be the third.