A big news story broke last week: Wilton’s next superintendent of schools will be Dr. Kevin Smith, who most recently was superintendent for the Bethel, CT public school district. He starts his new post on July 1, but he’s eager to get to know the Wilton district–and for Wilton residents to get to know him.
In his first interview with a Wilton news outlet, Smith spoke with GOOD Morning Wilton in a conversation with topics that ranged from him being excited to join the district and meet the students, to his thoughts on the budget process.
Above all, Smith wants Wilton parents to know one thing.
“First and foremost, I am absolutely and passionately committed to education, to improving outcomes for all kids. My mission focus in my work is to raise student achievement and increase opportunities for kids at every level. That would be number one.”
He said he’s eager to get started, and can’t wait to dive in to his new position. “I bring a great deal of energy and commitment to my work. So people should understand that I come into this with a lot of enthusiasm and energy, and a high level of commitment to working with the already dedicated and hard-working staff, to help move the district to the next level of achievement and performance.”
Wilton’s teachers can anticipate someone at the helm who is looking forward to relying on teamwork, and who puts faith in the abilities of staff members to be the innovators and proponents of a strong educational climate.
“My approach in my entire career has been highly collaborative. I would never pretend to have all the answers. In fact, my experience has been that oftentimes, when you create the right conditions, it’s the staff members who are able to generate the most powerful insights for any kind of educational change. I look forward to getting to know people and developing a high level of trust and building deep collaborative partnerships. That’s the true foundation of any really high quality educational system,” Smith said.
Of course, he’s excited to meet Wilton students too.
“I would love all the kids to know that I am a true advocate for them and for their educational aspirations. One of my goals, as a principal and most recently as a superintendent, was to be highly visible and connected with the kids, so I will take as many opportunities to get to know them. It’s a point of personal pride to walk into a classroom where the kids know who I am and know what I’m about, and where I can have an easy, relaxed conversation with them about whatever might be happening.”
He added that he wants to make sure that educational experiences are fun and engaging for students at every level. “I’m going to work with their teachers and principals to look at all aspects of the program and do whatever needs to be done to ensure that they’re coming into classrooms where they can be engaged, be stretched but also having fun and enjoying the experience of learning.”
While Wilton’s budget season for the 2014-15 school year will already be in the books by the time Smith officially takes the reins, he’ll have a front row seat watching it get set as he prepares to take his new job. The budget process is certainly one that, not only does he have experience with in Bethel, but that he’ll be keeping a close eye on this year in Wilton.
“We have a Governor and a President who talk a great deal about improving education, but when we look at the way dollars are allocated, there are some real iniquities. Wilton, like Bethel, is a place where there is a heavy reliance on property taxes. As a superintendent I feel particularly responsible to be a good steward of all of the district’s and the taxpayers’ resources, and making sure that we are accounting for every dollar, it’s very important to me. I believe in transparency, and making sure the dollars are allocated to our priorities, and that the programs we’re funding are actually working, and that there’s a return on investment.”
Smith said he “can understand why” Wilton’s Board of Finance might set a cap on year-to-year increase at 1.75 percent, but it would be difficult to meet that.
“That would be a number we would struggle with. This year in Bethel, the costs that were inside of our control, our organizational operating costs, were increasing about 1.43 percent, but our total increase in the budget was actually 3.5 percent. That’s because just over 2 percent of that total cost increase was health care and the claims expenses we had over the last year. There are some facets of the cost of education that are outside the control of the district. I think people need to understand the drivers, and one of my priorities when I get there, is to take a look at how money is being spent, make sure there is trust all the way through the community and that people support the way dollars are being allocated. Because at the end of the day, these are community members’ dollars.”
Smith feels that Wilton is a good match for him–for his abilities and his strengths, as well as the way he approaches teaching.
“Wilton has a fabulous reputation, not just in the state but across the country, for being a community that really values education. Not just academics, but through the opportunities kids are given to participate in sports and the arts. I found that attractive because Wilton’s program really aligns with my own personal philosophy of educating the whole child.”