“His greatest gift is the ability to build positive relationships with students, employees, parents and all other stakeholders,” Dr. Michael Novotny said of Salado High principal Burt Smith.
That gift is one of the reasons Smith was recently named by the 2013 Texas Association of Secondary School Principals (TASSP) as the Region 12 High School Principal of the Year. Smith will find out later this year if he will be named as the State High School Principal of the Year.
Before coming to Salado, Smith was named the 2011 Texas Association of Secondary School Principals (TASSP) Region X Principal of the Year
“Education has shifted from teaching students “what” to learn to teaching them “how” to learn,” Smith said. “We must focus on communication, innovation, technology and creativity in order to help our students become globally competitive.”
Smith and his wife Jami and adoptive children Adalgis, who attends Temple College, and Rosine, a senior at SHS, moved to Salado from Plano, where they lived for the past 15 years. He was principal at Shepton High School for six years, an assistant principal for seven years, dean of students and a teacher and coach. Smith holds a Masters in Education Administration from the University of Central Oklahoma and a Bachelor of Arts in Education from Southwestern Oklahoma State University. His wife Jami is a second grade teacher at Thomas Arnold Elementary in Salado. This will be her 24th year teaching.
“I have known Burt for 16 years and he is an amazing principal and an outstanding person. Burt is very deserving of this award because of the fantastic job he does leading Salado High School and his excellent work ethic and dedication,” Dr. Novotny said of Smith.
“I knew from an early age that I wanted to be a teacher,” Smith said. “I loved being in school, especially high school, so it was very natural for me to want to become a teacher.” Smith admits that he loved school so much that while giving a speech at his high school graduation, “I cried all the way through the entire thing because I was sad to leave my teachers, my friends and my school.”
He brings that passion to his job. Smith said that he strives to be a servant leader. “I was brought up to believe that my greatest gift is to serve others and help as many people as I can,” he said.
He adds that he gets to see the results of that service on a daily basis through education. He also sees that in his relationship with his two adopted children, Adalgis, who is now 20, and Rosine, who is 17 and entering her senior year as a Salado Eagle.
“She loves being a Salado Eagle!” Smith says, adding that Rosine has found many activities in Salado High school to be involved in, including actually being the Eagle. This year, Rosine is the mascot for the Eagles. For those who have not yet met Rosine, they can do so during the Salado Meet the Eagles on Aug. 24, beginning at 6 p.m. at Salado High School.
She is also a student athletic trainer, a member of the track team, yearbook, FCA and student council. Rosine is also active in the youth group at First Baptist Church of Salado.
Smith is proud of his children, which he and Jami adopted while living and working in Plano. The two came to America from Rwanda in 2008. When that family had to leave, the Smiths took them into their home first as foster parents, and finally making it official by adopting the teenagers.
Smith calls his son “one of the most resilient young men I have ever met. When he and his sister moved to the U.S. in November 2008 he was only 15 years old but he had to play the role of brother and father to his 12 year old sister since they came here alone. He learned very quickly to be resourceful, work hard, and stay positive in order to be successful.... Wherever he is, he is happy.”
“They are with us because of God’s providence and two wonderful, amazing teachers.” Smith said. “Most of their family and friends were murdered during the Rwandan genocide in 1994, but their immediate family escaped to the Congo and remained there until they were told it was safe to return in 1996. As they crossed the border back into Rwanda they were ambushed and their father and many of the other men in their group were also killed.”
The two were raised “by an amazing mother in a country where women are not treated as equals with men, but through God’s grace she kept them safe for 12 years,” he adds.
In the fall of 2008 members of the Hutu tribe told her they were going to rape and kill Rosine since she was getting older, so with the assistance of their priest they came to the U.S. to live and be safe. “The Rwandese government would not allow their mom to travel to the U.S.,” Smith said, “so she sent them here not knowing if she would ever see them again.”
They lived with a non-relative from Africa, who had to return there in late 2009. “They did not know where they were going to stay,” Smith said. At that time, Adalgis was a student at Smith’s high school in Plano. “I did not know him,” Smith said. However, he had made “an enormous impression on tow of our ESL teachers, Joel Remakel and Linda Engelhard.”
The teachers informed Child Protective Services of the situation, which notified Smith as a school administrator. The Smiths contacted CPS about fostering Adalgis and Rosine.
“On December 14, 2009 they were placed in our care,” Smith said. “They officially became our children June 28, 2011. Jami and I have lived a very blessed life, but until Adalgis and Rosine came into our lives, we truly did not know what we were missing.”
“People say all the time how blessed they are to have parents, but we are the ones who have been blessed by having them in our lives,” Smith adds. “Children truly are a gift from God and it has been so amazing to watch how He had directed their path and ours through this entire process.”
Their children are part of the reasons the Smiths left a city of 300,000 for the small town and small school of Salado. “We had conversations for many years about moving back to a small town similar to the ones we grew up in,” he said, “but it had to be the right town because our lives in Plano were very fulfilling and we had developed many lifelong relationships with colleagues and friends there. We have found Salado to be everything we were looking for; friendly, focused on education, and a great environment for our own children.”
He adds that Salado has been everything that they were looking: friendly, focused on education and a “great environment for our own children.”
Parents are key to that environment. While a large community offers a deep pool of resources, what Smith called an almost endless supply, a small community like Salado has parents who take a much, more active role in the lives of their children.
“Their value is immeasurable and we could not provide the excellent education and outstanding extra-curricular activities that our students enjoy without their support, but we have to be careful to use these resources wisely,” he says.
Smith is straightforward about the other reason for coming to Salado: Michael Novotny.
“We worked together in Plano ISD and he is the best administrator I have ever worked for or with,” he says, “and our family was excited about the opportunity to join his family in Salado.”
Settling in the past year to the small town of Salado reminds Smith and Jami of the small Oklahoma towns of their youth.
“No matter where we go, people go out of their way to be friendly,” he said. “Every person at our bank knows me and my family by name and have since we arrived in Salado.”
“None of these things happen in a large town because people are so busy with their own lives,” he said. “In Salado, people take the time to get to know one another and they care about each other.”
He adds, “That is the kind of place you want to raise your children.