Principal says new Salyards school to focus on innovation
Counselor Sage Papaioannou remembers watching children go to the principal's office during Jill Smith's years of overseeing Aragon Middle School.
In most cases, the children simply wanted to stop by for a visit with Smith.
"Her door was always open, and you saw kids in and out every day, Papaioannou said. "So many kids made cards for her when she left Aragon."
Smith, 43, left to be principal at Salyards Middle School, where Papaioannou has joined her as eighth-grade counselor.
The new campus at 21757 Fairfield Place Drive is scheduled to open Aug. 22 with 1,334 students in grades 6-8.
Preparing to open the building has been an amazing experience, Smith said.
"There's so much to it; it can be a little stressful at times," she said. "But to be part of something new is really exciting."
As of Aug. 10, Smith said, "We are anxiously awaiting the completion of the building. The teachers will be allowed to move in some of their belongings the end of this week, but complete move-in will occur next weekend."
She added that a parent volunteer group is ready to help with the move and set up the building.
Smith said the campus will use the Positive Behavior Intervention and Support program to create a positive culture in the school.
"We are also working to provide several clubs for the students," she said.
"Salyards is a very exciting building because it is completely different from the other (Cy-Fair school district) campuses," Smith said. "This is a three-story building that has been designed to embrace 21st-century learning. Each floor will be a designated grade-level."
Natural light will flood the classrooms. She said the outside walls are large windows and the interior walls facing the hallways are glass as well. The building also contains flex spaces and large-group instruction areas where teachers can work.
Technology is a major focus, Smith said. "Teachers will have laptops and SMART Boards in each classroom. We are encouraging teachers to think outside the box as they plan lessons for students to incorporate more technology and opportunities for more student collaboration."
"The whole vision is to embrace 21st-century learning," she said.
The campus, which will pull students from Ault, Keith and Swenke elementary schools, is being designed to promote interactive learning and to capitalize on technology.
For Smith, education is a second career.
She has a bachelor of science degree from Stephen F. Austin in interior design and spent four years in that field before realizing she had a different calling.
"I just love working with kids," she said.
Smith went on to earn a master's degree in curriculum and instruction from University of Houston in 1996 and a second master's in instructional leadership from SFA in 2001.
She started her educational career 15 years ago at Stovall Middle School in the Aldine Independent School District, where she taught math.
"To be able to work with them, to get them to have those light-bulb moments where you saw it in their face, that was very rewarding," Smith said.
After two years, Smith transferred to Cypress Fairbanks Independent School District, where her husband, Robbie Smith, taught and coached.
She was a seventh-grade math teacher and academic achievement helping teacher at Thornton Middle School, a helping teacher to the director of instruction at Langham Creek High School and director of instruction at Truitt Middle School before becoming principal at Aragon Middle School in 2008.
As a principal, Smith has a talent for earning the respect of both students and staff, Papaioannou said,
"She's an amazing leader."
It was Smith's earlier experiences as a helping teacher, a department head and a director of instruction that convinced her she not only enjoyed teaching children, she also enjoys helping adults achieve.
Smith said she strives to be accessible to her staff.
"As a principal, you have to be fair, and you have to be positive," she said.
"I think it's important to create a team atmosphere. Everyone makes a difference."
Smith said she realizes 2011 has been a rough year for teachers. Educators in several states have been in the midst of union and collective bargaining controversies, and significant numbers of Texas educators faced the possibility of losing their jobs as a result of state budget cuts.
Smith said she hopes the public does not lose sight of educators' devotion to their work.
"Teachers go into teaching not for the money; they go into teaching because they want to make a difference," she said. "Teachers work so hard, and they give so much of their time. I think that piece of it isn't always seen."
Smith said she's excited about working with her team at the new campus.
"We will have approximately 80 professional staff members, of which 68 are teachers. We will also have 17 paraprofessional staff members."
Her team includes Linda vonWiesenthal as director of instruction; Sarah Johnson as sixth-grade assistant principal; Kerri Mauney as seventh- grade assistant principal; Greg Lozano as eighth-grade assistant principal; Amber Hurst, as sixth-grade counselor; Mary Torian as seventh-grade counselor; Laura Poff as librarian and Toni Isaacs as nurse.
Smith said she plans to continue making it a priority to interact with her students, as she did at Aragon.
"One of the things I try to do is to get to know the kids," she said. "I'm out in the halls. When they're having a bad day I know them, and I can go up to them and say, 'Something is not right. What's going on?' "
Robin Foster contributed to this story
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