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Newport-Mesa Unified taps NorCal educator, administrator to serve as superintendent

Dr. Wesley Smith elected as the next superintendent of Newport-Mesa Unified School District.
Dr. Wesley Smith, a California educator and school administrator with 24 years’ experience, could be Newport-Mesa Unified School District’s next superintendent.
(Courtesy of Newport-Mesa Unified School District)

Dr. Wesley Smith — an educator and administrator with 24 years of experience in California’s public education system — has been selected as Newport-Mesa Unified School District’s next superintendent, district officials announced Thursday.

A former executive director for the Assn. of California School Administrators (ACSA), Smith has served for eight years in positions at the state and federal level, in addition to 13 years as a school site or district leader. He is currently an adjunct professor in USC’s doctoral program and held similar titles at Shasta Community College and National University.

If trustees approve Smith’s contract during a Sept. 14 board meeting, the new superintendent will officially begin working on Oct. 18. He would replace Interim Supt. Hank Bangser, employed since Aug. 3 on a not-to-exceed $48,248 contract following the departure of previous Supt. Russell Lee-Sung.

Newport-Mesa Unified School District Interim Supt. Hank Bangser was hired Aug. 3.
(Courtesy of Newport-Mesa Unified School District)

“Hiring a superintendent is one of the most important roles of a school board, and I am pleased that our board unanimously agreed that Dr. Smith would be the best to lead our district to greater success,” NMUSD Board President Karen Yelsey said in a statement Thursday.

“[He] has the experience and established leadership qualities that our stakeholders and we, as a board, were looking for — we are excited to welcome him into the Newport-Mesa community,” she continued.

In their comprehensive search for a new district leader, trustees sought input from various stakeholder groups, who resoundingly indicated they wanted a leader who’d worked both as an administrator and an instructor, had demonstrated proven student achievement, strong communication skills and success at community building.

Smith previously served as superintendent of Morgan Hill Unified School District, a position he took in 2009. In three years under his leadership, the district increased its Academic Performance Index by 29 points — an accomplishment that helped him earn Santa Clara County’s “Superintendent of the Year” Award from ACSA in 2013, the Morgan Hill Times reported.

Before that position, he served as superintendent, assistant superintendent and principal of Cascade Union Elementary School District in Shasta County. Smith wore several different hats before that, working as a teacher of English, Spanish and English language development. He’s also coached football and baseball.

Newport-Mesa Unified School District Supt. Russell Lee-Sung retired in August, halfway into a two-year contract.
Newport-Mesa Unified School District Supt. Russell Lee-Sung retired in August, halfway into a two-year contract.
(Courtesy of Newport-Mesa Unified School District)

District officials praised Smith’s fiscal stewardship, indicating he successfully maintained a balanced budget amid funding cuts and declining enrollment during the Great Recession, while providing staff resources to continue to meet student needs. He also served on the board of the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team, which provides management assistance to K-14 agencies.

“I strongly believe in visible, service-oriented, collaborative leadership,” Smith said in Thursday’s release. “As superintendent I spent a significant amount of time at school sites and in the community to better identify system and stakeholder needs and values.”

Smith earned his bachelor’s degree in English from Brigham Young University before going on to earn a master’s from Claremont Graduate School and a doctorate in Educational Leadership from the USC Rossier School of Education in 2005.

District representatives did not provide information on what Smith’s starting base salary would be were his contract to be approved. Lee-Sung, who was hired under a two-year contract in August 2020, was given a base salary of $298,000.

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