By GRAYSON LEE MAXWELL
Rutherford County Schools
Jenni Smith has been named as the next principal of Smyrna West Alternative School, Director of Schools Dr. Jimmy Sullivan announced.
“Ms. Smith’s various teaching and leadership experiences will serve the faculty and students well at Smyrna West Alternative,” Director Sullivan said.
Currently, Smith serves as an assistant principal at Stewarts Creek High School and comes to Smyrna West with 29 years of experience in the Rutherford County education system. She earned her Master of Education degree in 2008 from Middle Tennessee State University and is currently on track to complete her doctorate in 2023.
Education, Smith said, is in her blood.
“I’m the product of a grandmother that taught for 47 years,” Smith said. “My mother moved here from Gallatin to put herself through college and when she started dating my dad she met my grandmother, and that inspired her to become a teacher. So, I was raised by an educator.”
Smyrna West is one of Rutherford County’s alternative schools. Students are not there by choice; either they have been remanded or have zero tolerance offences on record.
But Smith believes in the power of connecting with students, and the change it can bring.
“You have to talk to them. You have to meet them. You have to see them,” Smith said. “A lot of students that go there either haven’t been seen before or are seen in a negative light. And they get a fresh opportunity.”
When asked about what changes she planned to make at Smyrna West, Smith stated that instead of instant action, waiting and reacting was the better plan.
“I want to meet every employee on campus one-on-one. I want to ask them what they feel like they do well, I want to ask them what they feel are growing edges and how we can improve and what I can do. A head principal’s job is a service job. You have to serve your faculty, your students and your community. It’s a place of service and so you have to hear the needs before you can formulate a plan. I want to listen,” said Smith.
As assistant principal at Stewarts Creek, Smith also has valuable experience in areas of culture, discipline and student relationship building. Because many of the students at Smyrna West may not want to be there, all these areas are critical.
Smyrna West is a much different school from Stewarts Creek. The cafeteria is silent. Class sizes are halved, and the building has under 20 employees.
“I’ve worked with a lot of those students that end up there [at Smyrna West]. That’s one faction of my current job, but it’s a very important one,” Smith said. “The main difference I think between the environment is the way it is structured. Currently I’m in charge of about 600 students. I monitor a cafeteria with over 600 students and do teacher evaluations for 170 employees. I’m looking forward to the personalization of it.”
That personalization, according to Smith, comes from the intentional silence and simplicity at Smyrna West. Students do not go unseen, and for the first time they can be seen and heard in a different way.
“I’ve been working with these kids my entire career, and it’s the best part of my career. When I reach one of these kids that needs a connection, and they make a positive turn … you can enact generational change. One relationship with a kid can affect their family for generations to come. With it, you know, that one teacher, that one person can make a connection with a kid that can literally change the rest of their life.”