By STEVEN NALLEY
Jerome Smith has given 41 years to the education of Mississippi’s children.
For 21 years, he was a science teacher at Okolona High School, and for 19 of those years, he coached high school basketball. After becoming OHS’s assistant principal and then principal, he transferred to the Oktibbeha County School District, where he became principal of the Alexander Attendance Center, now East Oktibbeha County Elementary School. Finally, he became an assistant superintendent, initially in charge of the secondary curriculum and ultimately in charge of the full curriculum.
On June 30, Smith is set to retire after a long career in education, and the OCSD board accepted his retirement at its meeting Tuesday.
Smith said he wants one retirement gift the most.
“(I would like to see) significant improvements in student achievement,” Smith said. “I want this year to be the best year ever in terms of student performance. I think that would be the biggest gift I could have for my retirement.”
James Covington, OCSD superintendent, said while he has held his current position for only five years, he has worked with Smith for a total of 10 years. When Covington was principal of EOCES, he said Smith had become assistant superintendent, leading the two to work together. In those years, Covington said he has become intimately familiar with Smith’s value to the OCSD.
“Dr. Smith is one of those guys who wears a lot of hats,” Covington said. “He’s done curriculum, he’s done testing, he’s done personnel, he’s done worker’s compensation (and) he’s done all kinds of things. He has a wealth of knowledge in a lot of subjects. He knows the district as well as anyone does. It’s really going to be hard to replace a guy of his caliber because he’s been around so long.”
Smith said he has remained in education for so many years because he has a passion for learning and education. Even though he has a doctoral degree, he said he is a lifelong learner.
“I believe it was Malcolm X who said ‘Education is the passport (to the future),’ and I’m a firm believer in that,” Smith said. “It’s a continuous process. If you’re going to have any type of success, whether it be economic or whatever, (it) all hinges around good educational systems and so forth. I like to be involved in seeing students grow and mature into productive citizens.”
Smith said much has changed since he began his educational career. For example, he said parents were more involved in their children’s education 40 years ago than they are today, and students’ attitudes toward school have changed.
“I’ve seen a lot of innovations that have come about that have helped improve the education process, but I do think there are some basic things that we used years ago that were working and I think we abandoned some of those processes too soon,” Smith said. “In the early 1960s, or late ’60s or early ’70s, those were what we called the ‘Back to the Basics’ movement, and I think we need another ‘Back to the Basics’ movement.”
While new technology does enhance the education process, Smith said several educational professionals make the mistake of using technology as a substitute for effective teaching techniques. He said many educational professionals are also too eager today for quick solutions to problems.
“It just doesn’t always happen like that,” Smith said. “We don’t give things long enough to work before we abandon them. Those are the things I have a problem with.”
Smith said his plans after retirement are uncertain, but he does not plan to be idle.
“I do plan to be involved, and I might look at some other part time jobs and part-time opportunities and so forth,” Smith said. “It’s going to be aligned with the education process — possibly consulting. I don’t have anything definite right now, but I want to stay involved with the educational process.”