Déjà vu for Leon Smith at Russellville Independent Schools

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Russellville Independent School District Interim Superintendent Leon Smith, left, prior to his retirement from the same district, stands in 2017 with Stevenson Elementary Principal Robin Cornelius, right, to recognize that school’s BornLearning Academy student achievements.
Russellville Independent School District Interim Superintendent Leon Smith, left, prior to his retirement from the same district, stands in 2017 with Stevenson Elementary Principal Robin Cornelius, right, to recognize that school’s BornLearning Academy student achievements. When Bart Flener announced he was leaving the district in May, the Russellville board of education asked Smith to come back until a new permanent superintendent is hired.
Submitted photo

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a series of stories Kentucky Teacher is running about new superintendents for the 2020-2021 school year.

By Jim Gaines
jim.gaines@education.ky.gov

Starting work as superintendent of Russellville Independent School District has been slightly disorienting for Leon Smith. When he walked out of his office July 1, after his first day on the job, it seemed like he’d never left.

“I was wondering if I had just dreamed that I’d retired,” said Smith, who served as Russellville’s superintendent for eight years, from 2009 to 2017.

When Smith retired, Russellville hired Bart Flener as his replacement. But in May 2020 Flener was named executive director of the Green River Regional Educational Cooperative. That’s when the Russellville board of education asked Smith to come back until a new permanent superintendent is hired.

Smith said the board members are “very congenial and very cooperative,” and have the best interest of the district’s students at heart, so when they asked, he couldn’t say no.

He’s not sure how long he’ll hold the position, but he said school board members say they want to take their time searching for the right person. Under Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System rules, he can work a maximum of 167 days, he said.

Smith said he plans to focus on instruction during his tenure. He’s pleased with the changes Flener made and will retain them.

Working as an educator requires such long days that Smith doesn’t really have any hobbies, he said. But he enjoys spending time with his new grandson and loves being involved in his church. Smith said his faith is a vital part of his professional life.

Smith graduated from Campbellsville College in 1975 with a bachelor’s degree in social science, middle and high school levels. He taught for a while, then worked several years for Kroger, he said.

While at Kroger he finished a master’s degree in counseling at Eastern Kentucky University. That was in 1985. That same summer, he started work as a counselor in Washington County Schools.

Smith spent nine years in Washington County, holding a variety of jobs. During that time, he finished his Rank 1 certification at Western Kentucky University (WKU). He later returned to WKU for administrative certification.

In 2006, Washington County asked Smith to serve as interim high school principal for a year,  then hired him for the permanent position, he said.

Four years later, he arrived in Russellville. The district now comprises three schools, with about 1,100 students, Smith said.

“It was a perfect match for me. It’s a lovely community, great people to work with,” he said.

As superintendent, Smith focused on reading, and is pleased to see that’s still a focus in Russellville. During his earlier tenure, the district received a two-year reading grant for $1.5 million, which has since been extended, he said.

Smith worked hard to build ties between the school system and community leaders, and those bonds persist, he said.

“I think the partnership we had really helped our school, and the community and the families here in Russellville,” Smith said.

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