A Learning Service
Deputy Superintendent LaChawn Smith hopes to make a difference
As deputy superintendent of New Hanover County Public Schools, LACHAWN SMITH oversees projects and initiatives that affect all students and staff. Her work is the fulfillment of a mission that began as a child.
“I spent many years watching my mother struggle to get my two sisters, who have significant developmental delays, access to quality education,” she says. “That was my motivator to choosing to be an educator.”
Though Smith, who now has a doctorate in education leadership, began her career as a special education teacher, her career took a different direction when she was urged by her supervisor to apply for a program for school principals. To Smith’s surprise, she realized that education administration was her perfect job.
Smith’s first administrative position, as an assistant principal, brought her to NHCPS. She quickly moved up the administrative ladder, serving as a principal, coach for NHCPS principals, director of instructional services, and assistant superintendent. Then, in 2019, Smith was named NHCPS’s deputy superintendent.
As deputy superintendent, Smith wears multiple hats. In addition to helping Superintendent Charles Foust achieve his goals for the school system, Smith is the school system’s chief academic officer; and she leads the district’s equity efforts.
In this role, not only does Smith ensure that all students, whether disabled, LGBTQIA, of color, or linguistically diverse, have the same opportunities as other students, she also sees that the district doesn’t inadvertently put students at a disadvantage by requiring them to use devices or modalities they don’t have access to, such as computers or the internet.
In addition, Smith’s is a resource and support for the district’s staff, procuring supplies as well as researching ways the district can best support new initiatives and fulfill student and teacher needs.
“For me, this job is not just a role but also the opportunity to be of service to children and families, teachers, administration, staff, and our superintendent,” Smith says. “It really is about being of service. My only desire is to make a difference.”
During the pandemic, Smith’s job became even more complex. In addition to addressing academics, Smith worked with her colleagues to develop ways for the schools to support families’ social and emotional needs.
Next year, Smith plans to refocus on the district’s goal of achieving academic excellence for all students. The school system aims to ensure all students receive superior instruction; are engaged in rigorous, meaningful learning tasks; and master high-quality content.
“We are on a trajectory towards excellence,” Smith says. “We are committed to every one of our schools achieving growth expectations and a high number of our schools exceeding growth expectations,” she says.
Smith’s influence as an educator spans her entire career. She delights in the notes she receives from students who are thriving who she taught thirty years ago, the teachers she’s hired who continue to teach, and/or have assumed leadership roles.
Yet, Smith appreciates the fact that her work now affects so many people.
“As a deputy superintendent, you have the opportunity to impact many more people, as well as the opportunity to impact individuals in a much more significant way,” she says. “Your precision must be so much more precise because of the impact you have. I don’t take that lightly.”
To view more of photographer Terah Wilson’s work, go to terahwilson.com.
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