CCSD Chief of Staff Chris Smith wants to make a difference for every student
Chris Smith is quick to cite a philosophy he first formulated when he kicked off his career in education.
Smith started his professional path as a fourth-grade teacher, and progressed through roles as assistant principal, principal and administrator. Across all of the job titles he's held through his many years in public education, Smith has remained true to a set of basic principles, values that continue to steer his work as Chief of Staff for the Cherry Creek School District.
For Smith, the job continues to be all about making a positive impact for students.
"Education is challenging; education is rewarding. When you're sitting in front of children and you have the opportunity to do something good, you need to take that opportunity," Smith said. "You're going to make a difference every day, whether you think you are or not, you are. The decision of what kind of difference you're going to make is yours."
Though he no longer teaches in front of a classroom of students, Smith has daily opportunities to draw on these values in his current role in CCSD's Administrative Cabinet. As Chief of Staff, Smith has a hand in policy that steers the day-to-day operations in every building in the district; working directly with Superintendent Scott Siegfried and the rest of the Cabinet, part of Smith's job is to make sure that the district is living up to its goals of excellence for every single student.
But Smith still sees ties between his current administrative post and his days as a first-year elementary school teacher.
"I've shared this with every staff that I've worked with. I took it into my classroom when I got my first position," Smith said. "This is not about me. This is not about Scott. It's not about central administration. It's about the kids in our system. What are we doing to make sure that every single day, we make a positive impact on kids?"
Smith came to the Cherry Creek School District in 2009 after serving as a teacher and principal in Douglas County Schools. He was one of the first principals at Coyote Hills Elementary School, following Jim McDevitt and shepherding the school as it hosted a large population of students before the opening of Black Forest Hills Elementary.
"We were over 900 kids. We had to manage a massive amount of students on a transitional schedule," Smith said. "That was an amazing experience – a phenomenal staff, a great community. My youngest son went from kindergarten through second grade there. It was a special place."
From there, Smith went on to a role in district administration, serving as Executive Director of Elementary Education under Superintendent Harry Bull. The move offered a shift from Smith's previous positions, shifting his responsibilities from the classroom and the principal's office to a different kind of role. While he missed interacting with students directly on a daily basis, the shift offered Smith the chance to make a difference in a different sense, dealing with student and parent concerns from across the district and working to implement Cherry Creek Schools' broader vision.
His shift to Chief of Staff at the beginning of the 2018-19 school year offered a similar opportunity. While he still misses the direct interaction with students, Smith appreciates the potential of his post as Chief of Staff. Smith is intent on helping to realize the district's underlying mission "to inspire every student to learn, to achieve, to care"; he's committed to making sure that access to excellence is equitable at every building in CCSD.
"How do I ensure that? How do I take responsibility for that? How do I challenge systems when it's not happening? It's supporting kids in a different way," Smith said. "What I tell myself is that I'm still doing the same thing. I'm still impacting students. They just don't know it."
Smith remains committed to playing the same role that influential teachers played for him when he was a high school student in Pueblo, still searching for direction. Those educators helped Smith find his path, and he's committed to making sure that the Cherry Creek School District makes a similar impact for all of its 55,000-plus students.
Every teacher, every administrator and every staff member can help play that role, Smith notes, returning to another adage he used when he started as a fourth-grade teacher.
"I go back to the saying, 'It's not about titles, it's about being a team.' Every job in this district is important, and we can't accomplish our goals for kids unless everyone is doing their best," Smith said. "At Cherry Creek Schools, we're all about the students."