The devoted and respected Queens Grant High School Principal Michael Smith, after a long and colorful career in education and administration, will be retiring at the end of this school year.
We asked Principal Smith a few questions and just wanted to have a casual discussion about his career, life, and accomplishments as the principal at the charter high school.
What led Mr. Smith into the teaching and coaching profession in the first place? Well it goes back to high school. “I was like Rudy, in the movie, a good high school football player who started both ways, on offense and defense, however, not big and strong enough physically to play the game at a much higher level, said Mr. Smith.” As a third team player for his entire college career, he did not get much playing time at Glenville State College between 1968-1972. So he made a decision, it made sense to become a football coach as his passion and love for game was extremely strong. He thought coaching was his best option to remain involved in the game he loved. He was able to become a student coach, providing scouting reports on opponents, their defensive tendencies, and coached the offensive guards, during his last two years at Glenville State to build up his coaching resume. He completed his degree in Health and Physical Education in 1972.
Smith landed his first teaching position at Ravenswood High School, West Virginia teaching English, language arts and literature. He also coached the junior high team at the Cottageville School, and scouted for the high school football team. He then moved across state to take another teaching position in language arts, was an assistant football coach, assistant basketball coach and head track coach at Petersburg High School. After two years he moved again, this time to Logan High School, Logan West Virginia where he was an assistant football coach, head wrestling coach and driver education teacher.
However, he wanted to obtain a masters degree and coach at the collegiate level. His big opportunity arrived as he was able to become a graduate assistant football coach at Western Michigan University while attending the university to pursue his masters degree in Physical Education. He was also a graduate assistant physical education instructor at the university.
After graduation, Smith would spend the next six years as an Assistant Professor in Safety Education, named assistant football coach, defensive coordinator and was head track coach at West Virginia State College. He was voted the track coach of the year from 1981-1983 in West Virginia. But he was not satisfied, he wanted a head football coaching position. This decision would become critical in his career path from this point forward.
He accepted a position to become the head football coach at Pocahontas County High School, Dunmore, West Virginia. He also taught health and physical education while at the school. This decision to take a step backward to become a head football coach at a high school and leaving the collegiate ranks would close the door on any future coaching opportunities at the collegiate level.
But the decision also lead to his most enjoyable coaching experience at Hargrave Military Academy, Chatham, Virginia. He was the head football coach, physical education teacher, driver education teacher, and Commandant of Cadets of Hargrave Academy from 1985-1989.
He then found his second passion in life, his love for special education, “This specialty in education became my calling,” said Smith. He became a special education teacher serving students with emotional disabilities while being the football and track coach at Pittsylvania County Schools, Chatham, Virginia from 1990-1997. This experience led Smith to pursue his doctorate degree and transition into school administration.
This decision opened doors and he was able to land a senior position at Oak Ridge Military Academy as the Academic Dean and Vice President. This is when he learned about the charter school movement. He thought to himself, “Oh my gosh, this new direction about choice, it really appealed to me,” said Smith. “I thought this could be a huge opportunity for education in the future.”
He contacted the National Heritage Academies (NHA), a charter school management company. He learned they were planning to open a school in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1999. Smith landed the job as the founding principal of Greensboro Academy.
Eventually he ended up at Queens Grant High School, he met with the board of directors in 2001. Board Chairman and Mayor Ted Biggers visited Greensboro Academy and were impressed with the program and campus. They then decided to team up with NHA to open Queen’s Grant Community School in Mint Hill for grades K-8.
Five years later, Smith received a telephone call from Mayor Biggers about opening a high school, he wanted Smith to be the schools principal. So, he accepted the position in August 2006. However, the school needed a location, and the board tabled the opening until 2007. Meanwhile, Smith accepted a principal position at a middle school in Winston Salem.
After the high school opened in 2007 at the Garr Christian Academy grounds, the school found it’s current home in 2009 on Idlewild Road. In 2010, Smith was recruited by the board to become the principal of Queens Grant and has been it’s passionate leader ever since.
We asked him about his biggest challenges, he simply stated cell phones, they are a major distraction. The technology inhibits a students engagement, and he believes the students need to be more involved in a stimulating learning environment. Also, he mentioned the campus, it can be difficult to sell parents and students on the idea of classes being held in modular buildings.
His accomplishments, the ability to stabilize enrollment, to run a well disciplined school, to create a good environment for learning while providing a quality education, the continuous development of the campus grounds, attractiveness, facilities, athletic fields, and the overall campus atmosphere is much more inviting.
His legacy, that he did his job to the best of his ability. This means keeping the teachers motivated, they must bring their “A Game” to the classroom everyday. He made sure the school created a good learning environment to educate students, he always supported the teachers and the school. “Queens Grant High School is a place where students and teachers want to come to everyday,” said Smith.
Direction going forward, the new principal Josh Swartzlander has the ability to take the school to the next level. He is technology savvy, on the cutting edge of the newest education wave, is completing his doctorate and has a great family background of educators to raise the bar on performance and results.
Finally, Smith would like to take the opportunity to say, “I have enjoyed the support of Mayor Ted Biggers and the Board of Directors during my tenure here at Queens Grant High School. I wish everyone much success and continued growth and prosperity.”