School chief planning fast start

KATHLEEN SMITH
KATHLEEN SMITHCredit: Brockton Public Schools

Brockton’s first female school superintendent said she will hit the ground running in her new job and will focus on a range of priorities, from implementing new state standards to balancing relationships with parents, union employees, and the public.

In an interview, Kathleen A. Smith, 57, described Brockton as a district “where there are no excuses.”

“There is hard work to be done,” she said. “I know the players and the needs of our community, and there will be no honeymoon period.”

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A 38-year employee of the Brockton public schools, Smith was tapped to lead the 15,000-student district on March 28 after two nights of intense, televised questioning by the School Committee, which later unanimously decided to hire her. That makes her not only the district’s first female leader, but also the first internal candidate to earn such a promotion in nearly two decades.

It was a poignant moment for the administrator and former teacher who four years ago was a finalist for the job that went, by split decision, to former Swampscott school superintendent Matthew Malone.

But the Malone years were a contentious push-and-pull with the School Committee, and after a series of less-than-stellar performance reviews, the parties agreed to part ways, with Malone leaving his $1 million, five-year contract a year early. Not long after that, he was named by Governor Deval Patrick to become the state’s secretary of education, and Brockton’s deputy school chief, John Jerome, took over as interim superintendent.

Jerome stated earlier he had no interest in the permanent job.

A city resident and the outgoing director of Brockton Community Schools, which oversees all after-school and summer programs, Smith acknowledged she has a to-do list as long as her arm.

She said she is prepared to multitask, implementing new state core standards while advocating for stronger relationships between teachers and parents. Students will have a place to share thoughts in her administration, she said, and she will call for a full facilities master plan to look 20 years ahead in a district that is “growing by leaps and bounds.”

“We need to look at our city and the ages of some of our schools,’’ she said. “Do we need rehab? Or do we need new schools?”

Smith said she is grateful that school officials had the foresight to negotiate a one-year extension to the teacher’s union contract so she can focus on other initiatives in her first year. Under that agreement, ratified in early March, nearly 1,400 teachers received a 2 percent raise and will undergo new performance reviews that take into consideration student performance on tests, she said.

The district’s five other union contracts remain unsettled.

Teachers’ union president Kimberly A. Gibson said she looks forward to working with Smith.

“She has a good relationship with me,” Gibson said. “And personally, I hope she continues the good collaboration that Matt Malone started.’’

City officials, including Mayor Linda Balzotti, who chairs the School Committee and is the city’s first female mayor, said Smith will also be seen as a role model for young women.

School Committee vice chairman Thomas J. Minichiello Jr., who represents Ward 1, said Smith has a lot going for her, including the fact she listens with “a careful ear.”

“She has the experience, credentials, and has always displayed professionalism throughout her career,’’ Minichiello said. Being a city resident herself goes a long way toward promoting stability and confidence, he said, as well as a seamless transition.

Looking back, Smith said it was difficult being the runner-up in 2009.

“Certainly I was disappointed, but the next day I moved on,’’ she said. “The Brockton schools mean more to me than just a job.”

At the time, there were a number of colleagues that Smith said she considered equally qualified to be superintendent, but now many of them have retired.

“That leaves me a sort of elder statesman,’’ she said. And with young teachers now rising through the ranks, “these are the people I want to lead.”

As head of Brockton Community Schools, Smith oversaw all after-school and summer programs in the 23-school district. A Randolph native, she attended Cardinal Spellman High School in Brockton, then earned a bachelor’s degree in special education and elementary education from Westfield State College. She also has a master’s degree in guidance counseling from Bridgewater State University and a juris doctorate from New England School of Law.

Smith is married to Gerald Smith, a retired Brockton school administrator. They have two adult daughters who attended Brockton schools. She is the daughter of Marie Alward and the late T. Dustin Alward, a Randolph fire captain who was killed in 1987 by a drunk driver. The Massachusetts Fire Academy is named after him.

Smith said she is “humbled and proud” to lead her hometown’s public schools, and pledged to continue Malone’s and Jerome’s efforts.

“I will commit 100 percent of my time and energy to creating a dynamic environment where our teachers engage our students in rigorous study to prepare them for college and career success,” she said.

The School Committee will now negotiate a contract with Smith, and she and Jerome will determine a start date, expected to be in the next few months.

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