Doctoral student Tracy Smith begins tenure as principal of Ross Elementary School
A passion for education and learning runs deeply in Tracy Smith’s family.
“My aunt is a retired professor at Harris-Stowe, and my grandmother, after raising six children, decided that she wanted to be a teacher,” Smith said. “In her late 50s, she went back to school and got her degree and worked as a preschool teacher well into her 60s before she retired.”
Inspired by their example, she decided to pursue a career in elementary education.
Over the course of her career, she’s worked as an elementary school teacher in three area school districts, and also as an instructional coach and assistant principal. In May, Parkway School District named her principal of Ross Elementary School.
“I’m excited about this,” she said of the new position. “I think it’s surprising even me how excited I am about this opportunity to really broaden my scope and affect the lives of even more children. I still get to do what I’ve always wanted to do but on a grander scale.”
Smith earned her bachelor’s degree in education at Harris-Stowe State University, and after graduating, she obtained additional training in Montessori instructional methods. She put that training to use as a Montessori directress at Euclid Montessori School. After four years, she moved to the Rockwood School District to teach fifth grade.
However, it was the Ferguson-Florissant School District where Smith found a long-term home, teaching fourth, fifth and sixth grades for nearly 15 years. Working with young students appealed to Smith because she wanted to teach multiple subjects and also felt she could make the greatest impact at the elementary grade levels.
“I just thought I could build a rapport, a relationship with smaller children and give them a zeal for learning,” she explained. “And, I’m the oldest of three, so I always had my sister and brother as my students.”
In 2017, Smith transitioned into an instructional coach position at FFSD. In that role, she worked with fellow educators to foster research-based instructional strategies. Her efforts spurred a colleague to nominate her for Ferguson-Florissant School District Teacher of the Year, which she ultimately won.
Around that time, Smith also enrolled in the educational leadership and administration master’s program at UMSL. The university has worked collaboratively with FFSD for years in a variety of capacities, and the College of Education had a positive reputation among teachers in the district.
“I found out about the cohort model that they prescribed to,” Smith said. “It was interesting to me that I would have some support through the process.”
The group learning model helped Smith forge strong personal relationships and friendships with her classmates, while College of Education faculty members, such as Scholar in Residence Tom Hoerr and Scholar in Residence Patricia Corum, provided unwavering encouragement.
Hoerr and Corum advised Smith to consider moving from teaching to administration – even if it meant leaving FFSD. School leadership was something that had always interested her, but until then, other priorities had taken precedence.
“Most of my career, I have been encouraged to go into administration, but as a single mom, I was really concerned about the time away from home that the job entails just to do it well,” she said. “In 2019, my son graduated from high school and went off to college. It was just a good time for me to make that transition.”
After completing her graduate program, Smith made the leap to administrator, becoming an assistant principal in the Hazelwood School District. The experience also inspired her to continue furthering her education at UMSL. In 2020, she earned an EdS and is currently working toward an EdD.
It’s something that Smith has aspired to since her graduation from Harris-Stowe when she witnessed her aunt, a professor of music, clad in doctoral graduation regalia for the ceremony. It just took a bit longer than she anticipated.
“Now I’m back to what I really always wanted from the time that I got my undergrad, and I’m just seeing my dreams through to the end,” she said.
Smith is also living out those dreams as principal at Ross Elementary.
In her first year as school leader, one of her major priorities is the school’s newcomers program. The Hazelwood School District is home to many students who are immigrants or refugees, and the program supports students starting school in the U.S. for the first time. She aims to instill these students with confidence and to give them what they need to be caring, curious learners.
That individual goal is representative of Smith’s broader philosophy as an educator. She believes that it’s imperative for administrators and teachers to build up self-confidence in students and show them they can reach their full potential if they believe in themselves.
“It’s very important that every student understands that they have an advocate in us,” she said. “There is nothing they cannot do. Within them, they have all they need.”
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