Everything in Greg Smith’s modest office, from the books on the wall to the coasters on the round conference table, speaks of a life spent in education.
Education has been the 54-year-old Smith’s life work. He began his career as a classroom teacher in 1981 and step by step the superintendent of the Clear Creek school district has found a way to teach, motivate and lead a wider group of people.
For the past five years, Smith has been at the helm of a growing and innovative school district that has had to deal with local problems such as Hurricane Ike in 2008 and statewide obstacles.
Public school funding was slashed by about $5.3 billion in 2011 while at the same time testing standards increased and schools were required to give more tests to their students.
But the Clear Creek school district has weathered the storms. And while Smith will be the first to say that much of the credit goes to school employees, parents and school district trustees, the Texas Association of School Boards decided some recognition should go to Smith and named him the 2012 superintendent of the year.
“Of interest to the state selection committee was Smith’s belief that learning needs to be redefined,” said Barbara Williams, of the Texas Association of School Boards.
For his work on behalf of students, teachers and parents in the county, the region and the state, The Daily News staff selected Smith as a 2013 Community Champion. He and five others were honored recently at a reception.
Smith has been a vocal critic of the state’s budget cuts and emphasis on standardized end-of-course exams. He has been a vital part of uniting other districts in the county to meet the current challenges.
To be selected for state recognition was a great honor to be shared by everyone in the community, Smith said.
“I’m just a reflection of the school district being able to rebound from (Hurricane Ike), being able to rebound from losing $17.5 million in state aid, all the while knowing I can’t do this by myself,” he said.
And it could be that the silver lining in the fights over funding and testing has been that it has given people a voice and a reason to work together.
“I enjoy working with people and I enjoy what people can do if they are unified for a single mission,” Smith said.
Forming a consortium of county school districts has allowed them to unify priorities and open a dialogue with legislative representatives, he said. And it hasn’t been just whining about lost funding, he said. Leaders from the local districts have been able find priorities and bring up solutions to their state representatives, he said.
The Clear Creek district, and its trustees, which Smith is quick to praise, have often been at the forefront of standing up to the state in matters of funding and testing. And the fight is largely going their way with lawsuits to reverse the budget cuts moving through the court system and legislation to reduce testing in the legislature.
“People are standing up,” Smith said “People feel like they have a little bit of autonomy and control over their destiny because they have a voice.”
But for all his current recognition as one of the top superintendents in the state, the head of a school district was not what he planned to be when he started an educational career 32 years ago, Smith said.
He wanted to be a teacher who could reach and help students. He spends more time now in meetings than classrooms but that doesn’t mean his ability to reach and educate has stopped.
“My job is to help grow people,” Smith said.
That may mean hiring the right person for the right job, giving his employees room to grow or bringing parents, teachers, politicians and school districts together for a common cause. Teaching doesn’t stop just because Smith is out of the classroom.
“I wanted to be an outstanding teacher — somebody that really helped kids achieve their hopes, dreams and aspirations,” he said. “And that’s the same thing I’m doing today.”