Newest school board member wants to build relationships

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Editor’s note: The story as originally published incorrectly identified one of the candidates for the school board position, Jim Franklin. We regret the error and are happy to set the record straight.

NATCHEZ — The newest appointee to the Natchez-Adams School District’s board of trustees said she believes the future success of the school district depends on relationships built on the ground.

Adams County Board of Supervisors named Cynthia Smith, a former school administrator, to the NASD board of trustees Monday.

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Smith — whose background includes teaching, counseling and administration — will fill the unexpired term left by Ruth Nichols, who was appointed earlier this year but resigned from the board in July.

Smith said the most pointed question the supervisors asked her was what could be done to improve the area’s schools.

“The one comment that characterizes what I feel about (how to improve schools) is, ‘We have got to build relationships,’” Smith said. “It is people who build the atmosphere, not programs. Programs are not going to take the place of that personal interaction with teachers and students and administrators and students.”

The school district has programs in place that given time can do good things, Smith said, but the focus should be on people rather than programs.

The board made the appointment after interviewing Smith and three others. The other nominees included Dianne Good, a community volunteer who runs a tutoring program; Amos James, a retired veteran; and Jim Franklin, a retired educator.

The appointment comes after a summer in which members of the public have been increasingly vocal about how the school system is administered and how that administration has resulted in changes in staffing that have been unpopular.

Supervisors President Darryl Grennell said Smith’s experience as an administrator in the school system was central to the board’s decision.

“She worked in the system and is familiar with the policies and procedures,” he said. “She is very familiar with the governance in terms of how boards of trustees work. All were great nominees, but I guess her experience and her familiarity with the Natchez-Adams School District were key.”

Supervisor Mike Lazarus nominated Smith for the position, and said he had not known her before the nomination.

“I named her because a lot of people recommended her,” he said. “She worked her way up through the system, and after talking with her I could tell she had a passion for it and wanted to serve. After talking to her (Monday), I could tell she would be a good member.”

Smith began her career in education at Cathedral School in 1970, before she had a degree. After moving to the coast and teaching in Hancock County, Smith moved back to Natchez in 1980 and began teaching in the four junior high schools in the district at that time.

In 1987, she received a master’s of education from the University of Southern Mississippi in school counseling and worked at the then Morgantown Elementary School and Robert Lewis Middle School, and started work for the Natchez-Adams School District as a counselor.

She received a second master’s degree in school administration from Alcorn State University, and was assistant principal and then principal at Robert Lewis Middle School before retiring from the NASD in 2004.

Smith then spent six years as a counselor at Vidalia High School before being appointed as head of school for a year at Trinity Episcopal Day School. She retired from Trinity, but after a year of retirement took a job at Adams County Christian School, where she is currently a guidance counselor.

Smith is also the mother of Shannon Doughty, a former Natchez High School administrator who recently made a tearful plea to the board of supervisors to keep as close an eye as they can on the school district. Doughty left the NASD after being offered a contract that would have placed her back in the classroom rather than continuing in her administrative position.

Doughty told the board the contract offer was made based on projected test scores rather than final numbers, and she ultimately believes the test scores will vindicate her.

Grennell said Smith’s appointment is effective immediately.

Supervisor Calvin Butler recused himself from the discussion because his wife works for the school district.