When it came to choosing a career, new Radford principal Jeff Smith knew his calling from a very young age. Even while he was still in high school, Smith knew he was destined for a career in education.
“I knew I wanted a career in education before I went to college,” Smith said. “When I went to Virginia Tech, I majored in history and social studies and political science education. My influences were a lot of really good teachers and coaches in high school.”
After graduating from Virginia Tech with a bachelor’s degree majoring in history and social studies along with political science education, Smith began teaching social studies at Radford high school. Simultaneously, Smith coached football, wrestling and baseball, beginning in the fall of 1986.
In 1991, Smith enrolled at Radford University to complete his master’s degree in educational leadership development. Following his completion of the program in 1994, Smith served as an assistant principal at Floyd County high school for two years. Those two years have been the only time he was worked outside the Radford area. Before being offered the principal position in April this year, Smith was the principal of Dalton Intermediate school for twelve years, located right next to Radford high school.
The situation in which Smith took over as principal of Radford high school was a unique one. As a matter of fact, Smith swapped principal positions with Greg Payne, who sought more time to spend with his family and develop administrative experience outside the high school level.
“I know how good this school is, I know how good the faculty is, and I know the kids. I was extremely excited when I was offered the principal position here at Radford,” Smith said.
Once he officially took over the position on June 1, Smith found there were adjustments he needed to make as an administrator.
“The biggest adjustment is knowing high school graduation requirements, types of diplomas, state mandates to reach graduation. Those were things I didn’t have to deal with at Dalton.”
As Smith has acclimated himself into his position, he has also voiced his hopes to improve what he says is one of the top high schools in the state of Virginia.
He added, “There is always room for improvement. You can always take a step back and look at your curriculum, and look at ways to do things better. When I decided to get into administration, I wanted to try to lead young people from a different perspective. I wanted to influence curriculum, and curriculum development.”
In order to improve the school as a whole, Smith has emphasized the value of having modern technology readily available for students and faculty.
“I think kids today learn differently than kids from my generation. There are so many more resources relating to technology. We are blessed and well-set up with great computer labs and up to date technology,” he said. “You can’t just stand behind a podium and lecture anymore. There has to be new ways to teach the kids.”
Even as Smith is about as familiar with the Radford area as one can be, he has also been forced to tackle new challenges which were not present when he first began working as an administrator over a decade ago. In the Radford school system, kids who are living in poverty are defined by whether or not they qualify for a free or reduced lunch. In 1999 when he began serving as principal at Dalton Intermediate, 17 percent of students were eligible. Today, that figure has more than doubled, as 40 percent of Radford high school students qualify.
As a result, Smith has become aware of, and actively engages himself in figuring out how to educate those who are forced to deal with difficult living circumstances.
He said, “Our focus is teaching children in poverty. We have a higher percentage of impoverished kids. Research tells that you can’t teach them the same way. Our challenge right now is meeting the needs of kids who learn differently because of their socio-economic background.”
Despite the constant challenges that Smith faces as principal, he is quick to give praise towards his colleagues, and the support he receives from the local community. He mentioned the Radford High School Foundation is a 501(c)3 that provides scholarships and monetary contributions for innovative teaching ideas. Also, the Radford city council has provided 150 percent of what is required to be contributed to education, which allows for smaller class sizes.
Along with the steadfast support of the school’s parents, Smith is quick to sing the praises of the school’s faculty.
“The strengths of the school are the competency and work ethic of the faculty who come here ready to work each day. Before you can teach kids anything, you have to build a relationship with them,” he said.
In terms of what the future holds for Smith, he is unsure of how long he plans to hold his position. He has been married for 26 years with two sons, one who is enrolled at Emory and Henry College and another who is currently a junior at Radford high school.
“I’m going to work here as long as I am healthy. I’ll be here as long as they let me, or until I’m assigned to something else. I would be very happy retiring from this position. I do want to retire from Radford city schools. It’s been good to me. I want to end where I started.”