At first glance, Superintendent Chelsea Kang-Smith is every bit the head strong leader that she was in high school: she wears an inviting smile and exuberates confidence that isn’t intimidating, but instead welcoming.
Kang-Smith is currently the Superintendent of the Temple City Unified School District, overseeing seven schools, and was previously area superintendent in San Diego, overseeing 27 schools. She has been a principal, an assistant principal, a high school and middle school teacher, and a substitute teacher.
Kang-Smith’s involvement in education began in her prime. During college, a friend slyly coerced her into helping out at a Sunday school camp. Kang Smith calls the event “a great experience”, with a roomful of toddlers squealing, screaming, and crying serving as her impetus in children’s education. She stresses creativity as crucial in education and realizes “we tend to get “bogged down by standards”.
Despite her extensive background, Kang-Smith’s introduction to Temple City began as a fluke. She had never heard of the town, but a district-hired firm immediately acknowledged her as an eligible candidate. One trip down Las Tunas and she was instantly drawn in.
“When I came [to Temple City], I saw a quaint town only seen years ago… I saw this as a diamond in the rough,” Kang-Smith says, reflecting upon her initial drive around the city, “…there is great potential in this city.”
Now, as Superintendent, Kang-Smith is focusing on building bridges between the city and the district and making a difference in parents’ and students’ lives.
“The relationship between the city and the district was not too great,” Kang-Smith comments, “it needs to be rebuilt… because in the end it’s not about ‘your kids’ or ‘my kids’; they’re all ‘our kids’.”
Recently the city and district had been unable to work out the Joint Facility Use Agreement, stipulating school sites could be used for city functions and vice-versa.
She also hosts numerous joint meetings with city council members and views their “interaction [as] important to the community.
As for bettering the education experience for students and parents alike, Kang-Smith and the District have engaged in various projects to tackle attendance and lack of communication.
The program Teleparent, which informs parents of their children’s performance, received a positive reaction from parents all over the city.
Positive Saturday schools, in which classes will serve as “catch-ups” and still count towards attendance, will be enacted in the future. Her plan to implement full day kindergarten at La Rosa has already received a 90% parent approval rate.
Kang-Smith could not stop stressing the important of attendance.
“Money is allocated to schools not based on total student population, but rather it is based on average daily attendance,” Kang-Smith states, “We went from a 97.43% attendance rate to a 97.74% attendance rate; for this, we received a $96,000 increase.”
But statewide budget cuts have forced the district to reconsider its current financial situation; this includes considering whether retaining staff members, hiring teachers, and increasing class sizes.
For grades four through twelve, class sizes will increase from 33 to 34 students per teacher, a move Kang-Smith expects not to diminish instructor education.
She has also reconsidered renovation projects, including remodeling as the Oak Gym, the high school track, and the high school swimming pool.
This interview was conducted by Sophia Chang and Randy Shun. It was published in the Temple City Voice on August 14, 2009.