White Hall School District Superintendent Larry Smith will be retiring effective June 30 to take care of family responsibilities. White Hall School Board members Dr. Raymond Jones, Dr. Doug Coleman, Rebecca Pittillo, Connie Medsker, Scott Lockhart, Scott Ray and Roy Agee accepted Smith’s upcoming retirement at a meeting Tuesday night. They had first met in executive session for one hour 15 minutes to discuss personnel matters. No one mentioned Smith or his upcoming retirement during the meeting.
“I am in my 28th year in education with 24 years as an administrator, including the last 10 years as White Hall superintendent,” Smith, who holds a doctorate degree, said prior to the meeting. “I am not going to retire and sit on the couch. I am not going to be in the grind of an administrator.”
“I’ve told employees [that] family always has to come first,” Smith, 53, said. “And I have to follow my own advice. My whole career has been directed toward becoming a superintendent. I was blessed to be able to do that. I am thankful for the opportunity.
“Being superintendent is an extremely hectic job. It is to the point where we are going to make a change and step off the busy cycle. I have certainly enjoyed my time here. The people have been wonderful. The district will be strong after I leave.”
Smith said his favorite aspect of the job is seeing students succeed. He said a recent White Hall High School senior class includes five graduates who are starting medical school. He said he is also proud to see graduates enlist in the military academy.
“Working with a great group of people and staff — you could not ask for any better,” Smith said.
Smith said his greatest challenges involved changes in state laws and federal regulations. As a result, he dealt with consequences that he said were “not always easy to do.”
“It is part of the job with federal food guidelines that you do not always agree with,” Smith said. “You have nutritional challenges. The kids do not like food as it is currently being prepared. You have changes in dealing with three different sets of tests [in as many years]. Our staff is not at fault. But it makes it tough.”
A former assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in the town of Bryant, Smith began his career in education prior to social media. Fast forward to the present, and he is dealing with students using social media, which causes problems that manifest in the classrooms.
Smith pledged his admiration for White Hall.
“I have not seen a lot of change in our students,” he said. “They work hard. Our parents have high expectations and expect their kids to be productive members of society. Social media has changed a lot. When I started in White Hall, Facebook was new. … Kids have always been kids. Some of the things they deal with occur on the weekend and then spill over into school.”
Smith continued: “I appreciate everyone’s support over the years. My job can be a tough job. But my predecessor Gary Kees told me this is the best job he had. I think he is right. The board has been great. They have been willing to work with us and have the best interest of kids at heart.”
Board members did not mention whether they will seek an interim superintendent or what steps they may take to seek a permanent successor. After the meeting board chairman Jones praised Smith, calling his tenure successful.
“He has been a very good financial leader and very good on the law,” Jones said. “He has done a good job as superintendent. … He is not leaving because he has been run off from the district or fired.”
A member of the White Hall School Board since 1993, Jones worked with Smith since Smith was hired in 2007. Jones credited Smith for keeping the White Hall School District financially sound and moving forward with technology.
“We’ve gotten rid of our portable buildings,” Jones said. “We built an extension to the high school, put in a ten-room classroom and made a lot of wonderful improvements to our district. We made great progress.”
On the subject of new federal and state laws, Jones called them unfunded mandates that school districts find a way to obey.
“Dr. Smith has been very good at the financial aspects, trying to figure out how we should fund those things. What moneys we have leftover we try to use for technology.”
With respect to social media, Jones said the board passes policies governing students to prevent their abuse of social media and their using it properly in the classroom. In other personnel news, the board accepted the resignations of teacher William Chance Bankhead, White Hall High School social studies department chairman Russell Bearden, and White Hall High School science department chairman Tim Atkinson.
The board hired Joan Townsend-Davis as a White Hall High School science teacher; Anthony Miller as a White Hall High School math teacher and assistant football coach; Lake Hollowell as a White Hall High School science teacher; and Ryan Bridges as a White Hall Middle School physical education teacher and assistant coach in football and baseball.