Saying farewell to Principal Smith


Deb Smith

Principal Deb Smith and English Teacher Ron Baer at this year's teacher of the year ceremony.

Ron Baer

Daniel Pearl Magnet High School is named after a man who didn’t just write about the truth, he risked his own life and eventually died, attempting to wade through a country in tatters confusion and danger.  It’s this attempt to obtain as much information as possible, in an unbiased, highly ethical, and methodical manner that lives on and was the impetus for the naming of our school. It is also the same behavior that Ms. Smith, our beloved and soon-to-be-retired principal embodies and why she will be so missed.

Choose almost any school day and you’ll see the black Miata convertible, top-down, rumbling quietly into the parking lot at about 7:20. a.m.  Ms. Smith gets out of her car and begins her strut through the archway. This could easily be the scene of an old spaghetti western movie where our gun-slinging hero’s ominous spurs clink, and that ominous desert whistle tells us it’s high noon.  She’s a formidable presence in her pressed suit and stylish loafers, walking in with a determined face. Ms. Smith opens the saloon doors—I mean school doors, students gathering behind her as if they’ve been waiting all along for the sheriff after she rid the town of bandits.

As the first students pass the threshold our roughshod leader warmly smiles, gives a small nod to one or two students, a “good morning” to another and DPMHS suddenly awakens. She’s the total package of what you’d expect from a school leader–providing a safe learning environment through strength and love for her school, along with a searing belief that it is through being a good role model that one can set the tone for the rest of the campus.

After opening her office, she walks down the arteries of our hallways, her love for our school flowing through the long corridor, the cafeteria, courtyards and classrooms—greeting students and staff and, above all, getting the lay of the land—the vibe of the outliers, the stresses of everyday school life and the overall climate of people interconnecting.

At 8:05, after playing the before-the-bell song and ushering students to class, she sits down at her desk. It is here where the revolving door of her office whirls for hours, like Macy’s on the day before Christmas. Except this is every school day, where at any given time Ms. Smith will be visited by numerous people who seek her counsel: parents, office staff, teachers, students (and more students), community and district leaders, even police officers. Often these visitors are unannounced and need her at the same time, but she never waivers in her cool, calm demeanor.

We’ve all walked by this office and if the door is open the conversations softly seep into the hallway.  And if on a particular day you are walking a little slower than usual, it’s hard not to hear a master at work.  Very few people could endure the never-ending stream of people and problems to be resolved, at least not without medicinal relief.  Yet Ms. Smith somehow treats the whole day as a grand experiment in behavior and communication. Often, people walk into her office with a firm agenda in mind, only to walk out with a new understanding of their circumstance and its resolution. Ms. Smith always reminds teachers and parents that teenagers make a lot of mistakes, but we still need to be the adults in the room.  

This mentorship also shows up in our professional development as Ms. Smith can make even the driest subject into a real conversation about what we value as teachers. Her constant concern is what can we do to be better, to work closer as a community.

Last but certainly not least there’s the day to day administration of a school and that’s the time our leader spends in the late afternoon and into the early evening making calls, returning emails, handling the paperwork–all so she’ll have time the next day to ready her revolving door once again. Yet she never seems exhausted or burnt out.

As our hero rides off into the sunset, top-down, of course, to a life of finding her own truths through mentoring others, I imagine our school community looking just like the ending to one of those old westerns. I see us gathering at the fence surrounding our school, standing with our Stetsons in our hands, waving goodbye to our sheriff, our leader, our mentor and our friend.  Before making that turn on to Balboa, in my mind, Ms. Smith turns and smiles. Like always, it’s that smile, that genuine smile, telling us all is OK and to never forget that our job as human beings is to live in the here and now and examine our choices at the moment.

Farewell, Ms. Smith.  Happy trails.