By LISA TANG
Lamont Smith remembers a boy who enjoyed school in Cayuga because he believed his teachers cared about him.
Today, that boy leads a school district of 1,233 students in Elkhart. As new superintendent, effective Aug. 21, Smith, now 44, hopes to carry on the hometown values he learned in Cayuga.
Those values, he said, include feeling connected to others in the community, and understanding the importance of faith, family, and country.
“It’s almost like a dream come true to come back home,” Smith said.
Elkhart Independent School District board members began seeking a new superintendent in June, when Ray DeSpain resigned, due to family health issues.
During DeSpain’s tenure, Elkhart High School received a National Bronze Medal status from U.S. News and World Report’s Top Texas Schools for 2017. The district also ranked 262 out of 1,785 high schools in the state.
Smith, who earns $118,000 a year, has big shoes to fill, but board members believe he was the best qualified among 20 candidates to head the district. Smith previously led school districts of 200 to 2,000 students.
“(Smith) is from East Texas and understands small-town issues,” said Kevin Bush, president of Elkhart’s School Board.
Harold Holloway, the board’s vice president, agreed.
“Dr. Smith...has experiences in schools and districts that will bring new perspectives to EISD,” he said.
Smith now has his own family, including a son in the seventh grade who attends school in Elkhart.
“The advantage of (a rural school district) is that other people are supporting your values when your children are away from you,” Smith said.
Smith earned his associate's degree at Trinity Valley Community College, then attended East Texas A&M University in Commerce, and Southwest University in Winfield, Kansas, where he earned a master’s and doctorate degrees in educational leadership.
Smith served as deputy superintendent of the Lancaster Independent School District, south of Dallas. Of his 22 years as a teacher and administrator, eight were in Lancaster, where he oversaw academic support, fine arts, athletics, finance, nutrition, and health services.
As the leader of Elkhart's school district, Smith said he will continue to draw inspiration from his own hometown school district.
Smith called Cayuga, a small district in East Texas, a place where teachers and neighbors cared about him. He cited teachers, such as Ms. Satterwhite, who drove his bus to school and taught his second-grade class, but died when he was in third-grade.
“Every day, she made sure I knew I was special,” Smith said.
Band Director Eric Moseley, who helped Smith get a full band scholarship to Trinity Valley Community College in Athens, was another inspiration.
“If our kids get those kind of people in their lives, they’ll be very fortunate,” Smith said. “The idea that I could come back and be one of those people just gives me chills.”