News superintendent doesn't make rushed decisions
By Jim Turner


Posted on January 1, 0001 12:00 AM



The first time Leon Smith set foot on Russellville school property, Roger Cook was by his side. Now Cook is behind him but still has his back.
Smith, the newly named superintendent of the Russellville City Schools, played his final high school football game at Russellville's Rhea Stadium. Coach Jim Gladden's talented Panthers gave the visitors a lesson in Panther football, beating Campbellsville 34-0 for the regional championship.
Joining Smith on that team was Cook, who just completed a memorable tenure as the Russellville superintendent. In fact, Smith will have a clear view of Rhea Stadium from the central office building, since the middle school in between was razed during Cook's final year at the Russellville helm.
"Roger and I were both candidates for the superintendency at Taylor County (where Campbellsville is located)," Smith told The LoJo by phone Wednesday. 
"When he got the job, he told me that Russellville is a place where I should apply. He said it is a sweet district. I looked at the demographics and thought this would be a good place for us. So we applied and now are excited about becoming part of an excellent school system."
Milam says that Cook made no attempt to influence him to choose Smith, but that Cook has since expressed his pleasure over the choice of his former teammate. Cook was listed as one of Smith's professional references on his application.
Although their backgrounds are similar, Milam predicts Russellvillians will notice differences in the way to the two superintendents do their jobs. While Cook was very aggressive and liked to get things done on his own, Milam believes that Smith will act at a slower pace and will delegate more authority than Cook did. "It will be a complete change of pace," Milam said.
"I'm old enough and wise enough to know not to go into a place that is running smoothly and immediately begin making changes," Smith said.
"I expect him to observe and work with people before he makes big decisions," Milam said. "Things are in good shape now anyway. Most of our construction work is completed, we are doing most things well academically, and we have a good financial reserve with which to work."
Those who were with the three finalists for superintendent were impressed with the friendliness of Smith and his wife Karen, who was an educator for 10 years before devoting her time to child rearing. "They were introducing themselves to everyone in sight and learning as much about Russellvillians as possible," Milam says."Everyone I've talked with who met them has said 'way to go' about our hiring him."
"When I was down there, we fell in love with the place. I wore a black and gold tie to school today," said Smith, who is in his final two weeks as principal at Washington County High School at Springfield near Bardstown. "I have to say, though, that I have had some teachers crying here today when they found out we were leaving, and I'm a little teary-eyed myself."
After serving as guideance counselor at the high school for nine years, beginning in 1985, Smith served as instructional supervisor for Washington County Schools for eleven years. He volunteered in 2005 to serve as interim principal at the high school "which was experiencing turmoil from inconsistent leadership." After that year, Superintendent Larry Graves asked him to stay on a principal on a permanent basis. He's been in that position every since.
Under his leadership, WCHS has moved up to be ranked in the top 25 percent of performing high schools in Kentucky. In 2005, Washington County was recognized as a top 10 district in terms of improvement. Smith was responsible for curriculum, assessment and comprehensive planning during that two-year process.
A top honor came when he was selected by the Collaborative for Teaching and Learning to deliver the keynote address at the 2008 China's Top Schools Conference in Beijing, China during the Olympics year.
Leon Smith was a graduate of the first Kentucky Leadership Academy. He told the board he considers leadership to be his strongest area. "I lead by example. I am not afraid to confront challenges and will build a working relationship with all employees and the community for a free exhange of ideas," he said.
"I deal honestly and fairly with all team members and community leaders. People who work with me do not question my integrity, which has enabled me to establish a deep trust with my staff and community."
Smith spent his freshman year at Western Kentucky University before transferring to Campbellsville University where he earned a degree in social science. After teaching at Washington County Middle School for two years, he left education for a career in meat management with Kroger in Lebanon and Richmond for seven years. "There was a better income to be made at Kroger than in teaching then," he explains.
While in Richmond, he earned a masters degree in counseling at Eastern Kentucky University in 1985. After returning to Springfield and to education, he earned a Rank I (30 hours above a masters) in counseling.educational leadership in 1998 where it all began-- at WKU.
Karen Smith will stay in Springfield this school year while their son concludes his senior year at Washington County. He plays wide receiver and cornerback on theCommanders football team and pitches for the baseball team. "I'm going to be a big Panther fan, but I may miss some games while I'm watching my son's final season," Leon Smith says. "He plans to attend either Western or Murray State, so our being in Russellville will make it easier for us to see him in future years."
The Smiths plan to buy a home in Russellville in 2010. Superitendent Smith has a four-year contract with the school system.
He says, "I'm happy where I am at Washington County, but I'm looking forward to being a Russellvillian."
Russellvillians should have plenty of time to get to know him. He's not going to rush away.




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