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When Rod Smith, EdD ’08, was named Middle School Principal of the Year by the Kansas Association of Secondary School Principals, he felt immediately humbled.

“I’ve always believed awards never reflect one person, but all of those who have helped that person achieve success,” said Smith, principal of Frontier Trail Middle School in Olathe.

Each year, the state winners are submitted for consideration to be named National Principal of the Year. The winner is announced in October to coincide with National Principals Month.

Smith has been in education for 26 years, 20 as a principal. He has served as Frontier Trail principal for nine years.

Working in education runs in the family. In addition to two cousins and an uncle in the field, Smith’s wife, Brenda, teaches sixth-grade English and their son, Benton, is in college studying to be a teacher.

Smith began his career in education as a fifth-grade teacher at Highlands Elementary in the Shawnee Mission School District, but soon felt the need to pursue a larger role.

“I loved being a classroom teacher but realized a building principal can have a large impact if they think ‘what’s best for students’ when they make decisions,” he said.

Smith’s decision to enter Baker’s Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership program was based on the potential for career advancement.

“I liked how the program aligned with ISLLC standards [professional standards for educational leaders that are approved by the National Policy Board for Educational Administration],” he said. “I knew it would prepare me for district-level leadership in addition to opening doors to teach at the university level.”

A member of Baker University’s first doctoral cohort, Smith said his experience was very positive.

“I made life-long friends in cohort 1,” he said. “I appreciate the support and encouragement I received from [Associate Professor] Dr. Harold Frye. [Baker] helped me develop new skills and gave me opportunities to collaborate with great educators in cohort 1 and to successfully defend my dissertation and pass the state test for district-level administrators using the ISLLC standards.”

Frye, Smith’s advisor, remembers Smith’s time in the cohort fondly.

“Dr. Smith was one of those candidates who took a chance on a new degree,” said Frye. “[He] was an elementary principal at the time in the Shawnee Mission School District and completed his dissertation as a study in that district’s half-day kindergarten program versus full-day program in which students either qualified as a Title 1 student or parent-paid student. Now nearly 12 years later, that district and the state of Kansas have moved forward in providing full-day kindergarten programs for all children thanks to the work of researchers like Dr. Smith.”

While Smith is quick to credit the support of others for his success, Middle School Principal of the Year is isn’t the only award he’s received this year. He was also named 2018 KASSP Area I Middle Level Principal of the Year.

Frye said he isn’t surprised by Smith’s success.

“Dr. Smith is worthy of this recognition,” said Frye. “I am proud of each of my advisees who are Baker built.”

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