Mar 05, 2012 Neil Benjamin Jr. Uncategorized
It’s not going to be easy for Nancy Smith to walk away from her 25-year stint as principal of Fayetteville Elementary on July 1.
The Syracuse resident who got her start in education as a speech pathologist took over the administrative position in 1989, and says she has thoroughly enjoyed it ever since. To her, seeing young minds develop and go on to become successful was the key to her career. During her time, she took a serious interest in the environment, and helping her students understand the impact they have on it now and what the impact will be in the future.
Luckily for her, she has a plan to help keep her busy.
“I have a lot of interests, and I plan to pursue them,” she said. “I love being active.”
Smith met with Eagle Bulletin reporter Neil Benjamin Jr. and talked about her career, her interests and what she plans to do next.
Why have you chosen to retire?
“I’ve been with the district for 25 years. I love the challenges of my position, challenges I’ve encountered in my overall career. Now it’s time to attempt some new ones.”
Have you decided what the next step is in your career?
“Not specifically. I’m going to just let things sort of unfold and see what options are available to me over time. I’m in no rush.”
You like to travel the world. You want to add to that travel log. What are your fond memories, your favorite places?
“I’ve absolutely loved Europe and I definitely need to go back. There’s so much more to see, to experience. So that’s going to be a primary travel goal. I’ve been to Germany, Italy, Ireland and Paris.”
What advice do you have for someone who wants to go to Europe and get the most out of it?
“I’d suggest doing your own research first, and that you talk to other travelers. I would suggest maybe buddying-up with someone who enjoys it, or a very good friend so you can plan and share experiences.”
You plan to retire July 1. Talk to me about why you got into the profession of shaping young minds.
“I was a speech therapist, not a classroom teacher. I have had a will to work with kids, parents and other educators. I was drawn to the speech pathology field because I enjoyed the developmental aspect and working with children.”
Did you work with kids needing to develop or just in general?
“The whole spectrum. I worked for Department of Mental Hygiene. All of my clients had developmental disabilities, children and adults. From there, I made the move to public schools.”
Did you grow up in CNY?
“I did not. New Hampshire, and got my bachelor’s from the University of New Hampshire. Then I moved to the Southern Tier, then to the Syracuse area after a few years.”
Are you fully fulfilled with your career? Is there anything you want to accomplish before leaving?
“There’s an awful lot I’d like to do. Very fulfilled and very challenged. I love what I do. I love the folks with whom I work — our staff members as well as our parent community. I think change is good and I enjoy challenges.”
What kind of interests do you have in your free time? What’s a perfect Saturday afternoon in the summer like for you?
“I am active. Biking, running, swimming, cross country skiing. But there’s never enough time to do as much as you like. I enjoy hiking as well. I enjoy, especially in nice weather, being outdoors. I also enjoy travel, cooking and the arts.”
Seen anything cool lately?
“Not locally. I go to New York [City] whenever the opportunity is available to me.”
Let me put you on the spot. What is your biggest accomplishment to this point in your life?
“Tough question. I think it’s important day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month to reflect on all that happens in a professional day, or a segment of time. And then to move forward with those reflections. Make changes necessary, and feel that chunk of success. I think it’s a combination of all that goes on in the course of a school day, or a month’s work, a year’s work. To say one culminating experience or accomplishment is difficult. I feel that as an administrator and with staff collectively we have worked very hard to develop very collegial working relationships so that our students really benefit from the total school experience and to provide the support needed to help every kid be successful.”
I was that kid always in the principal’s office. Instead of punishing me, he always worked through stuff. Are you like that? How do you try to handle that type of kid?
“It’s important to take a developmental approach. Working with kids goes well beyond issuing a consequence for a behavior. Help them understand why the choice they made wasn’t a good one and help them determine what other choices are available to them that are more appropriate. I also work very closely with the school counselor and psychologist, so they are very much involved with the students.”
What will you miss the most come July 2?
“It’s going to be difficult to go cold turkey. I’m going to miss the energy of the school, the pace, the relationships with students, staff and parents, and I think everyday we feel we make a difference. That’s going to be the big change for me.”
I’d imagine you feel a sense of accomplishment. You are walking away on top, kind of similar to if Derek Jeter retired after winning a batting title. Is that similar?
“It’s similar. When you have a passion you never lose it. It can take a different form. Certainly don’t see myself walking away July 1 and calling it the end.”
What’s the goal of teaching the kids about the environment?
“Social responsibility. It’s important they learn what they have is wonderful; responsibility to make sure we don’t lose it. We need to improve on what we do have.”
Neil Benjamin Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org