When college-bound senior Jennifer Gonzalez first heard Superintendent Wes Smith address the community upon his arrival three years ago, she was inspired by his bilingual speech filled with “profound and sincere words” in English and Spanish.
“He approaches people not as the superintendent but as an equal to each person he engages,” said the Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce’s Student of the Year and president of Project Roadmap. “He values perseverance, dedication to others, and the importance of reaching all groups in our society.”
That was one of many reasons why Smith was honored by the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA) as Santa Clara County’s “Superintendent of the Year.”
“She and her peers make me want to be a better leader and a more effective student advocate,” said Smith of Gonzalez, whose words were read by Assistant Superintendent Steve Betando at a March 27 school board meeting. “My role as superintendent is to help adults meet the needs of all students.”
Since Smith’s arrival three years ago, the Morgan Hill Unified School District has seen a 29-point increase in the Academic Performance Index (API), California’s yardstick for measuring academic growth and success. In addition, MHUSD graduates have “a greater percentage of Latino students meeting University of California requirements than similar county districts,” according to the district.
MHUSD Deputy Superintendent Bonnie Tognazzini, who is retiring at the end of the school year after 21 years in the district, said there has been more “positive progress” during Smith’s three-year leadership than the previous 20 combined. One of the major accomplishments includes the passage of the $198 million Measure G fund in November 2012 with a 65.74 percent voter approval.
“He is open to all input and has the innate ability to get the community behind district initiatives for improving academic attainment and student success,” said Mayor Steve Tate of Smith, who chairs the Legislative Action Committee for the Santa Clara County Superintendents Association and has advised at committee hearings of the California State Legislature.
Nationally, Smith has met with President Obama’s Special Assistant at the White House and the U.S. Department of Education staff.
In Morgan Hill, Smith spearheaded a Student Achievement Leadership Team, made up of educators from different sites, grade levels, administrators and secondary subject area professionals.
“Wes’s can-do attitude advanced the fruits of SALT’s work including the implementation of innovative school schedules and sometimes unconventional but effective instructional practices,” Board trustee Ron Woolf said.
Woolf pointed to the implementation of the Jackson Academy of Music and Math and the growing Spanish Dual Immersion Multicultural Education program as two examples.
“Dr. Smith brings people together and works collaboratively for the students of our district,” Board President Don Moody said. “He guides our District as it continually evolves to meet the 21st century needs of our children and community members.”
Smith prides himself on using a collaborative leadership style, working effectively with the Board of Education, administration and faculty to better serve MHUSD students and the community. “Public education can be unresponsive to the needs of students, families, and communities,” Smith said, “but Morgan Hill Unified School District is not one of those districts.”
Smith was appointed as MHUSD superintendent in November of 2009, after serving in the same role with the Cascade Union Elementary School District in Anderson, Calif. since 2006. He has a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Southern California and a masters of arts degree from Brigham Young University.
“He quickly became highly respected in the district and community,” said executive secretary Julie Zintsmaster, a former Board trustee. “One of his core beliefs is that we must treat others with respect and kindness in all situations.”
Previously, Smith was named ACSA Region I Administrator of the Year in 2004 and Shasta County School Administrators Association Middle School Principal of the Year in 2003.
“Wes is a man who leads by example and for those who are lucky enough to recognize it, it is a true gift,” said Patrick Buchser, ACSA Charter president. “He recognizes that all our children deserve the best educational leaders possible and he believes that we all must help one another to get better.”
Scott Forstner is a general assignment reporter who covers education and other community issues for the Morgan Hill Times. Reach him at (408) 847-7158 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org