As a retired principal, I follow the administrative assignments plus many educator Facebook pages. When Will Smith was assigned to Lonsdale Elementary as principal this past summer, social media exploded with excitement for the beloved former staffer returning to the helm of his treasured school.
Fate is such a beautiful thing! Will didn’t start out in education but initially followed his sister to UT from Cookeville, where his family still lives, to study medicine. He majored in pre-medicine for two years, sure that his calling was to be a pediatrician.
At least he had the kid part correct. He says, “God kept putting opportunities in front of me to work with children from working Tate’s Day Camp for two summers, volunteering with Child Life at Children’s Hospital for three years and in the school clinics at Inskip and Bonnie Kate Elementary to teaching a preschool class at church for four years.” He finally realized his true calling and changed his major to early childhood education and graduated with his bachelor’s in 2009 and his master’s in 2010.
Will Smith epitomizes one of his favorite sayings, “If serving is beneath you, then leadership is beyond you,” as was evident from the thread of comments following Smith’s appointment to Lonsdale in anticipation of the empowering leadership he would bring to the school. Many of his staff were familiar with the leadership Smith would bring since he had served multiple roles under former principals Amy Brace and Wendy Hansard when he taught second and third grades at Lonsdale previously.
Smith says after he graduated in education from UT, he began his teaching career at Inskip Elementary where he taught English as a second language. There were seven different languages spoken in his classroom which kindled his passion for diverse learners and would lead him to Lonsdale Elementary School, where he taught for four years.
He continues, “It is at Lonsdale that I found my home with a community of teachers, students and families that truly shaped me and molded me into the educator I am today. During my time at Lonsdale, I had the opportunity to serve in many leadership capacities including grade level chair, TAP mentor teacher and TEAM lead teacher. I was also blessed to be selected as the Lonsdale Teacher of the Year in 2016 and was then selected as the Knox County Elementary Teacher of the Year the same year.” He attributes his leadership skills in large part to the mentorship he received at Lonsdale from principals Brace and Hansard.
Although teacher Smith thought he could never leave Lonsdale, he said he made the biggest decision of his educational career by applying to the Knox County Leadership Academy where he was selected and then assigned to serve for a year as assistant principal at Hardin Valley Elementary School with Sunny Scheafnocker, whom he described as an amazing leader model for him.
He followed the Leadership Academy year with an assignment as assistant principal at Green Magnet Academy. Again, Smith attributes his growth as a leader to his mentoring principal: “Jessica Holman is an amazing leader that invested in me and helped mold me as an administrator.”
Another favorite quote for Smith: “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire!”
For Smith, his fire has always been his treasured Lonsdale Elementary, that he calls his dream school and says, “The greatest blessing for me was to be appointed as the new principal at Lonsdale Elementary. I never thought I would get to return to the school and community that had such a major impact on my life, but I believe everything happens for a reason, and I am proud to be here!
“I hope to be at Lonsdale for many years to come! I love this community, and thank God every day that I get to serve in a place that has given so much to me! I look forward to continuing to build relationships with teachers, students, families and our community partners! There are great things coming for Lonsdale, and I am so glad I get to play a small part in the adventure!’
Will admits to another underlying reason for choosing education as well. He hated school growing up due to several reasons that affected his self-esteem causing other kids to make fun of him. He didn’t want any child to feel the way he did. He wanted every child to understand they are important, they are needed and that they matter! He believes school is where that should happen!
Will Smith, principal at Lonsdale Elementary, lives another of his favorite sayings, “In a world where you can be anything, be kind!”
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