“When people entrust their children to you, that’s the ultimate sense of responsibility. When you’re responsible for people’s most precious thing, that’s a heavy burden to have,” said Misty Smith, North Star Elementary School principal.
Smith was explaining what the hardest part of being a principal is during a Monday interview at North Star. “I think the hardest part about being a principal is just that responsibility,” she said. “We’re responsible for kids’ academics. We’re responsible for school safety … I think safety has a whole different flavor to it, which is a huge responsibility. If anything were to happen, it’s just all on your shoulders and the buck stops with me when it comes to that. And that’s a huge burden to carry.”
The best part of being a principal is the kids, Smith said. “I’ve always loved working with kids. And so, if I’m having a bad day I always say, ‘Well I’ll just go visit kindergarten’, or, I’ll go visit the fourth-graders,’ and just sit in their class and see them learning and see them engage,” she said. “The kids are the best part of the job, for sure.”
Smith, who hails from Farmington, New Mexico, came to Albuquerque in 1996 to attend the University of New Mexico. She worked as a special education teacher at Grant Middle School from 2001 to 2010 before moving over to North Star, where she worked as the assistant principal until 2016. From 2016 to the present Smith has been the head principal, working through COVID restrictions, online learning and then transitioning back to in-person learning.
Smith has two kids who attended North Star, with one who has moved on to middle school. When making decisions about student safety, one of the questions she asks herself is, “Would I want that for my own child?” She said it can be hard to make decisions for an entire school and with approximately 600 students, it isn’t just about her or her own kids.
“I think that when you’re a principal you have to have more of a global focus. And sometimes you have to make decisions that are for the betterment of the whole community, not just the one class, and that can be difficult, but you just have to look at things through a different lens,” Smith said. “It’s more of a global lens versus a more honed-in view of things.”
And at North Star, it truly is a global community. A poster on the hallway wall says that last year students at the school spoke 43 different languages and two dialects at home, and they have lived in 20 different countries and 45 different U.S. states. Smith said the school’s diversity makes it a special place to work and is something that is embraced at North Star.
“We have kind of like a little international school,” Smith said. “Here at North Star we have kids from all over the world, which is amazing. We love that; we celebrate that. We have parents coming in doing presentations on different cultural things that are meaningful to their families, and we absolutely celebrate and welcome that.”
Smith said she hopes parents will have more opportunities to volunteer and share their experiences at the school this year. During COVID restrictions, those opportunities were limited, but this school year may allow for more volunteers and parent engagement in the classroom. For student safety, parents and guardians still need to go through background checks and fingerprinting to volunteer at schools, as per state law, but once completed there are many options to choose from.
“Here at North Star, there are so many opportunities. Teachers love to have parents come in and help. Whether it’s working with kids in small groups, or some parents like more of a hands-off approach where maybe they do help with copies or hang student work in the hallway. We also have a group called Friends of the Library here at North Star, where their goal is getting books in the hands of students,” Smith said. “And then we have, of course, the PTA; that’s always a wonderful opportunity to be involved in the school.”
One of the things parents and students can expect from Smith is for her to encourage community involvement. “One of my goals at North Star, and has kind of always been one of the things I’ve been passionate about and even more so coming through the throes of COVID, is I just always believed and strived to create a school environment that is welcoming and is very much a community school,” Smith said. “I really try to preach to the students and the parents: ‘This is your school; this is your community,’ and try to do things to make it a community-type school.”
To get a better understanding of who Smith is and what she likes, just ask her what her favorite Dolly Parton song is. “I like the song ‘I Will Always Love You,’ and it’s because of the story behind it,” Smith said. “It seems like it’s a love song, and it is. But it’s not about a lover. It’s more about somebody that she worked really closely with and they kind of parted ways, but she was just letting them know that even though we are not working together anymore we’re still, like, I will always love you. It’s just a different take on a love story, and that’s what I find interesting about it,” Smith said.
Smith said she is a “voracious reader” and loves memoirs but prefers fiction over nonfiction. She said her favorite book is “The Red Tent” but doesn’t have any one favorite author. When asked red or green, Smith did not hesitate with, “For sure, red,” and when asked Aggie or Lobo, she was quick to respond, “Lobo for sure. Everybody’s a Lobo.”
Smith said education is an adventure and although the adventure may not always go as planned, what is important is the experience and the memories that are created along the way. “I feel like if you are connected to your school, you’re going to have a good experience. If you feel that you are welcomed here, there’s that sense of engagement and a sense of belonging and I think it makes for a good experience,” she said. “And I think also just offering moments and situations in which kids make memories.”