Thursday, September 13, 2007
Smith takes reins at Holy Family
By SUE WATSON
Mille Smith, lately of Memphis, has joined Holy Family as principal this year. She brings new energy and optimism and a wealth of know-how.
A Greenville-born Mississippian, who married a south Mississippi man who worked in the Texas oil industry, and moved often, Smith said she knew she loved teaching at an early age, and practiced by lining her two younger sisters up on the couch for ‘school.’
Then she had three boys and continued teaching them until she attended the University of Memphis and earned a master’s in education. Her bachelor’s was in communication at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette. Smith holds a master’s in administration and leadership from Trevecca University in Nashville.
She began getting paid for teaching in 1995 as a sixth grade teacher with Memphis City Schools - Gardenview Elementary.
She later taught seventh grade math at Ida B. Wells Academy in Memphis and then took administrative roles at Oakhaven Success Academy in Memphis.
Smith brings all her life experiences - her spiritual and educational development in Greenville, her life as a mother, and her classroom and teaching experiences -to her first job as principal.
A first and unexpected decision she had to make when arriving in July at Holy Family was to pick the color and trim for the school’s interior spaces. The classrooms, halls, restrooms and lockers have been freshened up, thanks to a benevolent donor.
“And it’s great,” she said. “We hope to do the exterior next year.”
Holy Family’s enrollment - at 183 - is up by 30 students over last year with a waiting list in some grades.
“If someone transfers out or drops out, they are waiting to take their place,” Smith said.
This year emphasis will be placed on organization and preparation for a career, she said.
Some goals for the students this year will be to read more books, learn math, and think about careers.
Holy Family offers the Accelerated Reader program again this year and will add Accelerated Math.
Goal setting and perseverance will be emphasized to bring purpose to learning.
“How can learning have meaning and purpose if you don’t know what to do with it?” she said. “We need a plan and hope to have a counselor on board in two weeks to help carry this out.”
Another goal is to put in place a job shadowing program for eighth graders with the help of civic leaders and the business community.
“We’re a partnership,” she said.
Besides the new coat of paint, a spirit of volunteerism is energizing Holy Family this year.
Janet Towle, a 35-year teaching veteran and retired Memphis City Schools teacher, is helping organize work spaces. She commutes from Memphis to volunteer.
Locally, veteran teachers and administrators, Sue Dieckmann and Audry Peterson stepped in early with an offer to organize the teachers’ resource (books and materials) room.
Mary Lou and Lloyd Baker of Collierville, stepped in to help organize and to shred old documents.
“They’ll be back to teach reading and to tutor,” Smith said.
Other volunteers are coming from staff, families, and parents.
“It’s just been wonderful and there’s enough work here for all of us to do,” she said.
Smith is a product of Catholic Schools, having attended K-12 at St. Joseph’s School in Greenville.
Her mother, the late Mildred Provenza, was a nurse and her father, Sam Provenza owned a Pepsi Cola franchise.
Her maternal grandmother taught school in a one-room schoolhouse where she lived most of her life in Velma (Yalobusha County).
As hobbies, Smith likes to travel to the mountains and to water, to read, to cook and to laugh.
Her main lesson in life has been to persevere, something she hopes to pass on to others.
“Perseverance. Don’t ever give up,” Smith said. “I try to count my blessings and not my worries. I have so much to be thankful for. God is good.”
Smith’s three sons have migrated to Oxford where Carter, 26, just graduated from law school and awaits the outcome of his bar exam, and where Bo, 27, has Smith’s Lawn Management. Collins, 22, is helping his brother in the lawn service.
“This is my first fall since 1998 when I have not had a child in college,” she said.
Road to Holy Family studded with signs
Smith drew some parallels that accompanied her on her journey to Holly Springs.
“As I was driving in for an interview, they gave me directions and when I got to the stop at Salem and Randolph, I saw the Ida B. Wells Museum,” Smith said. “I taught at Ida B. Wells Academy in Memphis four years.
“I turned left on Salem and the first street I passed was Walthall. My grandmother lived on Walthall Street in Greenville.”
The name of the Catholic Parish in Greenville is the same as in Holly Springs - St. Joseph.
“And when I drove in the parking lot and saw the sign - Holy Family - I thought, how special. A Holy Family.
“Driving home I was riding on a cloud. All I could say was ‘Jesus, it feels right and if it is your will, I am willing.’ ”
Smith works for Sacred Heart Southern Missions in Walls.
“The job offer came from them. I went home that weekend remembering a Sacred Heart hung by my bedroom door in the hallway when I was growing up. My dad gave it to me and it is now in my office.
“I take this as a confirmation this is where the Lord has called me to serve.”
And there is a lot of tradition at Holy Family where half the teaching staff were graduates of the school and many of the children’s grandparents were students.
“It is truly a Holy Family,” she said.
There is a difference in serving in public school as opposed to a private school, Smith said.
“The big difference I see here is I can serve the whole child here. That spiritual component is essential for the development of the child.”
School is opened and closed every day with prayer and students lead the devotional every morning.
“We talk about reflecting,” Smith said. “It’s all about love.”
Classes in religion are a part of the curriculum.
Smith invites parents and community to visit the school and see for themselves.
“Just come and sign in and go visit the child,” she said.
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