Out of the 193 middle school principals in northeastern Kansas, Rod Smith of Frontier Trail Middle School in Olathe is the best, according to the Kansas Association of Secondary School Principals.
The association divides the state into six regions and takes from each nominations for Middle School Principal of the Year. Smith was nominated by another principal and he, along with the other five regional winners, will be in the running for the National Principal of the Year award.
According to Bret Church, executive director of the association, the nomination said that Smith “is very insightful and forward-thinking and supports other people in the field.”
Church said the award, which is in its 18th year, is “a significant honor, because it’s recognition from peers and selected by peers.”
Smith is starting his ninth year as principal of Frontier Trail. Previously, he was principal of Crestview and Mill Creek elementary schools in Shawnee Mission.
Although there are a lot more extracurricular activities at middle schools, the job isn’t as different as you might think, Smith says. It’s all about being involved.
“I saw him present at almost every activity my boys participated in, whether it was athletics, performing arts, academics — it doesn’t seem to matter what event it is,” said Whitney Schmale, who has one son at the school now and another who has gone on to high school. “Rod is consistently present and encouraging to those kids.”
She remembers Smith loading crates of water into school buses at 6:45 a.m. on a Saturday to get the marching band ready to perform at the Old Settlers Day parade.
“He seems to be engaged with all kids, not just the ones who excel or the ones who get in trouble,” said Schmale, who is also a school counselor at Olathe East.
Smith believes in being available to students and staff.
“For me as a principal, it’s being visible, being present. I’m in classrooms; I’m in the hallway at passing period,” he said. “I’m always in the lunchroom every day, in front of school every morning. I want to greet kids; I want them to see me when they come to school every day. I want them to know I’m here.”
To build a positive school culture with the faculty, Smith said he likes to arrange small treats whenever possible, like having the administrators grill lunch for the teachers.
“Teachers sometime maybe aren’t shown appreciation as much as they should for the job they do,” Smith said. “I always have an open door. Staff know they can visit with me anytime, (and I’m) spending time getting to know them — not just what they do as a teacher but their personal interests and their families.”
Before he became a principal, Smith taught at the elementary level. Earlier this year, the Kansas Music Educators Association chose Smith for its Honor Administrator Award.
What’s most important to him is connecting with the students. He tries to give them fun opportunities to get involved, like having pep rallies or letting them throw a pie in his face at an assembly to celebrate reaching a big goal.
“I don’t make any decision in the school unless I start from what’s best for kids,” he said. “At the end of the day, that’s why we’re here. I think the parents have seen I’m very student-centered.”