Even before she entered kindergarten, Sherine Smith knew she wanted to be a teacher. She reached that goal early in her professional career. In her 23 years with the Capistrano Unified School District, Smith served as teacher, activities director, principal and deputy superintendent. Smith, who turned 55 on Tuesday, became the superintendent for Laguna Beach Unified in 2010. The San Clemente resident spoke about her first three years on the job, what she learned from the much-debated school calendar change proposal and her priorities going forward.
Q: What's it like going from a school district with 55 campuses [Capistrano Unified] to Laguna Beach Unified, which has four schools?
A: It's been rewarding. Laguna beach is a 'high-touch district.' It is very immediate. I'm able to be in every single school every day if I want to. It's nice to be in a small district and be able to work personally with teachers and know them on a first-name basis. I feel like we have a real sense of camaraderie.
Q: How would you evaluate your first three years?
A: Every year we look at our test results because that is a public accountability measure. Every year our test scores have increased. We do staff development [ensuring students are engaged with every lesson and emphasizing writing as a critical skill], identify goals and set targets and have been able to achieve targets. We want kids to be critical and analytical, so they are able to judge, 'Is someone a credible source; is the argument a sound argument?' We want them to be able to think creatively and innovatively.
Q: What is your response to parents' claims that the district did a poor job communicating with families regarding the proposed school calendar change?
A: We heard their concerns and we are responsive to parents' concerns. We started posting recordings of our school board meetings on our website. We do call-outs [using an automatic dialing system] now to the parent community whenever we have a school board meeting. We link the agenda to the call-out so they can find the link and click onto the district website.
Q: What did you learn from the proposed school calendar change?
A: We in the district were working with our teachers union to address an educational issue. I think we defined the issue too narrowly. It was also a cultural issue. We need to be mindful of the impact our decisions have on the culture in the city and the community. Although the decision was well-intentioned, it wasn't well-received by many parents. So we were responsive and decided to not go forward with the pilot.
Q: In the next year, what are your districtwide goals?
A: We're creating short- and long-term plans to implement the common core [standards that teachers, administrators and experts developed to prepare students for college and the work force]. We need to define the scope of the [tennis courts] project , bid it out and get it completed in a timely fashion. We always want to use money appropriately and for its best use to ensure we have a high quality educational program. That means teachers, classified staff, facilities, programs and materials.
Q: You've been a principal, a superintendent and a teacher. Do you have a favorite?
A: I am always a teacher at heart. Before I was in kindergarten, I knew wanted to be a teacher. When I was a teacher, I loved being a teacher. Then my bosses wanted me to go into administration, which I did, and I've loved every single position I've had. No matter what position I hold, I'm always a teacher and I look for opportunities to build understanding and help each person, including myself, reach [his or her] fullest potential.