Since Paulette Smith came to Cabin John Middle School, there have been a succession of serious “S” words – September 11, the sniper shootings and last year’s storms. “Maybe this year, the ‘S’ will be for Smith,” Smith, the new principal of the school said.
Smith has been with Montgomery County Public Schools since 1970, but this is her first appointment as principal. “Ms. Smith is a top candidate in the county,” said Mark Kelsch, area superintendent for MCPS. “She is considered at the top of her game.”
“If we had received a group of 1,000 applications, we still would have selected Ms. Smith,” said Suzanne Weiss, PTA president for Cabin John. “She offers our school the quality and continuity we deserve.”
Other members of the school’s administration will continue in their roles, which Weiss said is an asset. “Mr. [William} Everly is still going to be our assistant principal, and we rely on him greatly,” Weiss said.
Smith moves into the position vacated by Donna Hollingshead, who moved up to be on the staff of Freda Lacey, the new deputy superintendent of schools. While she will miss having Hollingshead at the school, Smith is visibly excited to be moving into her new role. “This is a fabulous place to be,” she said, praising the faculty, students and parents. “I just delighted and excited to be here at Cabin John.”
Smith first taught in her native Richmond, Va. for three years before moving to Montgomery County. When she first came to Montgomery County, she began teaching at the Elementary school level.
Smith began teaching, she said, because of the teachers she had. “I had excellent teachers who cared about my education, but also cared about me as a person,” she said. She tries to mirror that philosophy. “I feel that I’m approachable.
She moved on to teach at middle school and found that she enjoyed working with the pre-adolescents. “I believe that in order to work in a middle school, you have to love the age,” Smith said.
“Middle school is really a crucial age for a child academically, socially and developmentally. I think our purpose is to guide them through,” Smith said.
Currently, Smith is pursuing a Ph.D. at Bowie State University. “At this point, I certainly appreciate being a student,” she said. Where her students must balance their academics with social and athletic activities, she must balance her academics with her work. “I can relate to how to balance their lives.”
Smith does not plan any large shifts in her first year as principal. She hopes to improve communication with parents, continue focusing on reading and math, and continue to encourage team teaching and collaboration between faculty members. “We’re not going to be instituting any mass changes,” she said.
She hopes to continue the varied programs which the school has. “Our school is diverse. We have many students who are high achieving, but we have many who need more support,” she said. “We always look for opportunities to challenge kids at different instructional levels.”
According to MCPS data, the school is approximately 58 percent white, 28 percent Asian, nine percent African-American and five percent Hispanic. Eleven percent receive Special Education.
Cabin John’s diversity, and the student’s acceptance of it, is one of the things which endear the school to her. “There’s no making fun of or bullying. Those issues just don’t exist,” Smith said. “I would think that Cabin John would be like the jewel of America.”