Five minutes into her Buffalo Bulletin interview, Kathy Smith needs a hug break.
As she hugs a Bulletin reporter she taught in her first-grade classroom over 30 years ago, Smith’s smile is infectious and her love of kids – even those who are now middle-aged adults – is evident.
“I just love being involved in education,” Smith said. “I love being involved with the parents and children and watching them grow. That has been one of the great joys of my life.”
Smith has been involved in Johnson County education in some form for over 40 years – first as a first- and second-grade teacher and most recently as a member of the Johnson County School District board of trustees. Smith’s last school board meeting was Nov. 12.
Smith first joined the board in 2006 as a way to give back to a district that had given much to her and her family.
“After retiring as a teacher, I felt like I needed to give back to the district to thank them for the wonderful career I had and the wonderful education my own kids had received,” Smith said. “Serving on the school board seemed like a great way to give back.”
With 35 years of experience as a teacher, Smith knew a fair amount about education before joining the board. But she still said her time on the board was a learning experience.
“I learned a lot about the statewide side of things,” Smith said. “The school board works much closer with legislators than I originally thought. I never realized how important it was to let our legislators know about all we are doing in education.”
Smith said she also learned a lot about budgeting during lean financial times.
“One of the most challenging things I faced while on the board is when the economy in the state declined,” Smith said. “We changed to a recapture district (in 2016), but it was still difficult to ensure that we didn’t lose any teachers or programs. I think we got through it pretty well, although I was sad that we were not able to give the members of our education community a raise during those years. I know Buffalo can be an expensive place to live, and I wish we could have provided a helping hand during those lean times.”
At the start of the 2018-19 school year, teachers and other certified staff saw a $750 increase to their base salary – the first they had received since the start of the 2015-16 school year. While the state’s economy seems to be turning around, Smith expressed hope that the school board would “continue to use funds wisely so they don’t have to face all of the highs and lows that I faced while on the board.”
When asked about her favorite thing about serving on the board, Smith’s answer is no surprise.
“I’m really proud of all the kids who have come through our system while I was on the board and all they have gone on to do,” Smith said. “They are the heart of our district. Everything we do on the board, we should do for the kids.”
Smith plans to take classes to become a CASA – or Court Appointed Special Advocate – for the Compass Center for Families. She said she hoped that new board members would advocate for students as much as she did.
“Come open-minded and ready to work for the best for children,” Smith said. “Leave any personal agendas at the door. As long as the board is united for children, there is no way to go wrong.”