Dr. Kevin Smith: Education, for him, is 'very personal'

Incoming Schools Superintendent Kevin Smith has been visiting Wilton this month meeting members of the community. On Friday, June 6, he met one group in particular when he spoke to members and guests of the Wilton League of Women Voters at its annual meeting at the Rolling Hills Country Club.

Dr. Smith described the position he will take July 1 as a “dream job” and said he was delighted to join a “community so committed to their children, so committed to education.”

He added, amiably, that he looks forward “to a long tenure.”

As the father of five children — the oldest is 8 — and an educator for 19 years, Dr. Smith said, “this work for me is very, very personal.”

He opened his comments with a list of “belief statements” that included:

  • Every child should have a meaningful classroom experience all day, every day.
  • Children should feel strongly connected to their school and the adults in their school.
  • To have truly successful schools, teachers must create a safe environment where students can feel free to take intellectual risks.

Of this last statement, Dr. Smith said he believes it is “our moral obligation” to create safe educational spaces where students may spread their intellectual wings.

Dr. Smith, who has been superintendent of schools in Bethel since 2011, also talked extensively about the global ramifications of a local education.

“So many in our country take our opportunities for granted,” he said. School systems have an obligation to help children “graduate with an appreciation of the government we’ve created.

“So many of our young people have economic certainty,” he said. “We’re challenged to help them appreciate what they have but motivate them to move forward” and take risks.

Students “must have the skills to interact globally … respect and appreciate diverse cultures … and brand themselves for wherever work may take them.”

Turning to the influence and ubiquitous nature of technology, he said, “young people are growing up with Google in their pockets.

“A bad day for young people is having two bars. A really bad day is one bar,” he said, getting a laugh from the audience.

Then he added, “in a world with ready access to knowledge, what is the need for a teacher?”

He answered his own question by saying all students must be offered experiences “for deep learning” and “the best and most forward-thinking teachers” have the ability to connect with students.

“Kids come alive when teachers believe in them,” he said.

Customizing students’ learning experiences across all grade levels “must happen daily,” Dr. Smith said.

Talking to China

“The most effective classrooms will embrace constant innovation,” he said, adding schools generally have not embraced the “tremendous power in social networks.”

Dr. Smith offered an example that occurred in Bethel when a group of sixth graders wanted to study China’s one-child policy. They used the Internet and other social media outlets to reach out to the United Nations and UNESCO. Their contacts eventually put them in touch with a woman in China whom the students interviewed via Skype.

“They looked at Chinese society and government and compared it to ours,” Dr. Smith said.

Common Core

Having clear standards all students must demonstrate is essential, he said as is “creating a rich curriculum and vibrant classrooms, helping students think beyond themselves on relevant problems.”

For their part, educators must use all data tools available. “We know what kids know and don’t know at any time, and we must respond in kind.”

Speaking on standards, Dr. Smith said he is in favor of the Common Core, an array of educational standards adopted by 40 or so states, including Connecticut.

The standards have crystallized the reading and writing experiences students have, he said.

The standardized test that has resulted from the Common Core, which has been highly criticized, needs more work, Dr. Smith said, but he added, “we are trying to build tests that are meaningful.”