New superintendent brings passion, commitment and optimism

Dr. Kevin Smith (Kendra Baker photo)

Dr. Kevin Smith (Kendra Baker photo)

The new school year is right around the corner and Wilton’s new superintendent, Dr. Kevin Smith, is beyond ready.

“I’m very anxious. I know the teachers probably aren’t quite ready yet, but if we started tomorrow, I’d be OK with that,” Dr. Smith told The Bulletin on Monday, Aug. 11.

Dr. Smith officially started as the Wilton school district’s superintendent on July 1, succeeding former Superintendent Gary Richards.

On the first day of school, Monday, Aug. 25, Dr. Smith said he expects everything to “go very smoothly,” and looks forward to welcoming students back to school.

“One of the best parts about working in a school system is that every year is new — it’s a new opportunity,” he said.

“You literally have a chance to reset every first day of school, so I’m expecting that our schools will be very happy places with lots and lots of adults eagerly and warmly welcoming kids back and setting them up for a really exciting school year.”

Passionate, committed and happy are three words Dr. Smith said he would use to describe himself.

“I’m passionate about public education and I’m committed to making sure this school district excels, even beyond its current level of high excellence,” said Dr. Smith.

“I’m a happy person and working in schools and with kids, I have a saying: ‘I believe teachers make the weather in their classrooms and the weather should always be sunny and 85.’”

Dr. Smith said he believes it’s important for those working in schools to be happy and optimistic.

“We have a tremendous ability to influence others, and we work in one of the most hopeful professions on the planet, so there’s no reason not to be.”

Experience

Dr. Smith received a bachelor’s degree from Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., in 1995.

“When I was in college, I was a political science major and I didn’t really think teaching was on my horizon,” he said.

“I thought I was going to go to law school or do something like that — maybe work in government.”

Through the Marist Brothers organization, said Dr. Smith, he was given his first opportunity to teach.

“Right out of college, I went and spent a year in Massachusetts. I taught English at a high school in Lawrence, Mass., which is an impoverished, inner-city kind of neighborhood,” he explained.

“From the first minute in the classroom, I just fell in love with teaching.”

Through the Marist Brothers organization, Dr. Smith went on to teach at Our Lady Queen of Angels Elementary School in Newark, N.J.

“When I think about it now, I think I was always destined to be a teacher. Some of the most instrumental people in my life were teachers,” said Dr. Smith.

“I remember — and when I talk to my mother, she jokes about it — for years I would go home and play school in my basement as a kid. So, it’s interesting that this career found me.”

While teaching in New Jersey, Dr. Smith earned a master’s degree in leadership from Seton Hall University in 2001.

“I then moved from Newark to the South Bronx, where I was first an assistant principal and then a principal at Sacred Heart School, and that was great — six years in the South Bronx,” said Dr. Smith.

In 2006, Dr. Smith earned his doctorate from Fordham University, where he also worked as an adjunct professor.

That year he was offered the opportunity to serve as a middle school principal in Bethel, which he accepted and served for six years.

Dr. Smith was then hired as Bethel’s superintendent in February 2012.

“I was superintendent in Bethel for two and a half years, then the opportunity here in Wilton emerged, and I just consider myself so fortunate to be able to serve here,” said Dr. Smith.

“I’ve had a lot of diverse experiences that hopefully have prepared me to do this work well.”

Welcome to Wilton

Dr. Smith said he is thrilled to be a superintendent in a community that “truly supports its school system.”

“Everywhere you go, you see a lot of enthusiasm for the schools and a lot of support,” said Dr. Smith.

“This is a community that clearly supports its schools and wants the best school system possible for its students. So, I could not be in a better place, in my opinion.”

Dr. Smith said the members of Wilton’s school community he’s gotten to know so far are “exceptional” and “really, really impressive.”

Before starting as superintendent, Dr. Smith participated in a series of informal meet-and-greets.

“I got to see a lot of faces, learn a lot of names, shake a lot of hands,” he said, “but getting to know people takes a long time.”

Dr. Smith said his mission is to not only get to know the Wilton community and its members, but also build strong relationships across the entire community — “with private organizations, with other public organizations, with other facets of town government.”

“Running schools is a very complex operation and people need to be on the same page about it, or at least have a mechanism for working things out when you can’t be on the same page,” said Dr. Smith.

“Getting to know people is the most important responsibility I have right now. Really establishing good working relationships with folks all across the community is my No. 1 priority.”

Why Wilton?

Dr. Smith said he was drawn to the Wilton school district for a number of reasons, including its reputation.

“Wilton, by reputation, is known as one of the best systems — not just in the state but I think in the country, he said, “so that was one of the first attractors.”

Dr. Smith said it was also hard to pass up an opportunity to work in “a town that really rallies around its schools.”

When he first met with members of Wilton’s education board and search committee, Dr. Smith said, “it was very clear to me that they desire to build on the current successes and make this truly a premier district.”

“That met with my own desire to serve at a high level, so that alignment of vision was attractive,” said Dr. Smith.

Dr. Smith said although he hasn’t been in Wilton long enough to make “an informed judgment about what is and what isn’t in place,” he does have an idea of what he would like to bring to the school district.

“I’d like to bring a new opportunity to build on the vision that’s in place,” said Dr. Smith, “and really create a coherent vision across the system that allows everyone involved to imagine the very best possible education for kids that we can provide.”

Dr. Smith said technology is one particular aspect he plans to focus on as superintendent.

“I will make sure that all of our kids, from the time they enter school, are able to have really authentic experiences and use technology in a way that allows them to stretch their learning as far as possible,” he said.

“Technology, in my mind, is really one of the primary catalysts for improving instruction across the system.”

Dr. Smith said he is rapidly learning that the Wilton Public School District has “incredible instructional expertise,” and he intends to work with Assistant Superintendent Charles Smith and other instructional staff “to make sure we are teaching on the cutting edge in every classroom.”

Dr. Smith stressed the importance of technology and its potential to “completely change students’ learning experiences and provide them opportunities to engage more directly.”

“Wilton has invested significantly in technology, and I’ve come to learn that the Wilton Education Foundation and the PTAs have also invested pretty heavily in technology in terms of purchasing mobile devices and laptops and Chromebooks and things like that — those are the right investments,” said Dr. Smith.

Rather than having students sit and learn, Dr. Smith said, it is now teachers’ responsibility “to let go of that control of knowledge and say, ‘All right, kiddo, you have an interest. Well, here’s a device that can help you and I’ll work with you, but you do the learning.’”

“I think what I’ll be able to do is work with the staff to really push that paradigm shift so that hopefully, sooner rather than later, we can walk through every classroom and see that really authentic model of kids doing the work and engaged in the kinds of learning that most motivates them,” said Dr. Smith.

Ultimately, Dr. Smith said, his goal is for students to leave Wilton schools with incredible public education experiences.

“When we get to the point where kids walk out of the high school saying, ‘I loved every teacher’ and ‘I had the most amazing experience in every classroom,’ we’ll be in a good place.”

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