Smithart will retire as Opp superintendent after 32 years in education

Published 1:00 pm Friday, June 21, 2024

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Michael Smithart will end a 32-year career in the field of education and 27 years with the Opp City School System when he retires at the end of the month.

During his 21-year tenure in administration, he served as an assistant principal for one year, a principal for one year, the assistant superintendent for three years, and in his current role as the superintendent for 16 years. His retirement with OCS will be effective on June 30.

“After spending 32 years in education, I was looking at some other options. I had the opportunity presented to me in another state and am looking forward to a new challenge,” Smithart said.

That new challenge will come soon as the director of Emerald Coast Technical College in Walton County, Florida, with his first day of work set for Monday, July 1. Despite spending three-plus decades in education, it will be his first postsecondary assignment.

“I will have to learn a lot about postsecondary education because it is vastly different than K-12, and it is also vastly different in Florida than it is in Alabama. After 16 years of doing this, I knew what was going on and how to handle it. Going to ECTC will be new and I’m looking forward to that,” he said.

Smithart added that working with people was something he has enjoyed within the education field, while the uncertainty was the most challenging element.

“I don’t feel like I’ve ever worked a day in my life. We can find some type of joy or blessing in anything. Everything about this field is enjoyable to me, primarily the people. With education, you never know what one day is going to bring, so there’s always the unexpected, and dealing with those things is invigorating. When your phone rings as the superintendent, you never know what that call is going to be about. It can be anything from winning a state championship to a student passing away and even a burst pipe or a bus wreck.”

Working with other educators within the school system is among the things Smithart said he will miss the most.

“The people and students within our organization will be the biggest part of it. In taking that position at Emerald Coast Technical College, the only reason I could come up with for not accepting it is the people. Everything else made sense, but the affection you have for the people you work with every day and the students make this position worthwhile. The folks I work with made my life really easy here, and a good challenge is never a bad thing,” Smithart said.

Although he was not entirely sure, Smithart felt he is the second-longest serving superintendent with one system in the state. He said the biggest change during his tenure has been legislative oversight.

“I think right now, we are experiencing a time where the legislature has decided to take over education. If you look over the last three to four years, many changes in education are legislative as opposed to policies from the state board. If you live in Covington County, your child can attend any school in this county and get a really good education. We do not need that oversight like other places around the state that may need it. We have a notion in Alabama that you have to paint the state with the same brush. The Wiregrass is different than the Black Belt or even cities in the northern part of the state,” he said.

In addition to his new postsecondary endeavor, his retirement plans include traveling and flying for the first time as well as spending time with his grandchild.

A 1988 Red Level High School alumnus, Smithart named four individuals as some of the most influential people in his life.

“Thelma Thomas taught history at Red Level High School. She lit a fire that made me want to become a teacher. Fred Kelley and Jimmy Prestwood both coached at Red Level and were the reason I got into coaching. Buddy Pyron was the principal at Opp High School when I came over here to work in 1997. He probably influenced my teaching as much as anything with what he demanded of people and had the highest expectations of the staff. I feel it made me a really good teacher and in turn a really good administrator, which set me on this path,” Smithart said.

Smithart’s career began in Butler County at McKenzie High School where he taught history and psychology and coached football, basketball, and baseball for five years. He continued teaching for six years after he moved to Opp.

He is the son of Robert and Jean Smithart. He is married to his wife Amy Ausborn Smithart of five years and has three children: Bailey Crocker, 30; Hal Smithart, 21; and David Michael, who passed away as an infant. He currently has one grandchild, Colton Crocker, 1.

“I’m forever thankful to have the best parents in the world who provided me with an opportunity to go to college. I would certainly not be sitting here if it weren’t for them. They gave me the framework and upbringing and instilled values in us. Opp is an incredible place and this is one of the finest school districts you will find. The people here make it special. I will never be able to articulate in words the blessing of working with these people every day,” Smithart said.

The board appointed Assistant Superintendent Emily Edgar as the interim superintendent, subject to contract negotiations. Edgar said she was honored to work alongside Smithart for 16 years.

“His dedication to our school district has profoundly impacted, not only our school district, but the entire community. Under his leadership, the district has improved both academically and in facility enhancements that have enriched the learning environment for both staff and students alike. Importantly, his strategic stewardship has ensured our financial stability while consistently prioritizing the needs of our students,” she said.

She added that Smithart’s legacy exemplifies the adage of leaving things better than they were found.

“He has wholeheartedly embodied this principle throughout his tenure. His vision and efforts have not only strengthened our physical infrastructure but have also led to significant improvements academically, ensuring every student had the resources and support needed to excel. As he embarks on this new chapter in his journey, I extend my heartfelt gratitude for his exceptional leadership and wish him the very best in all his future endeavors. He will be sincerely missed,” Edgar said.

A retirement celebration for Smithart will be held in the Opp Board of Education’s new facility at 113 E. Hart Ave. on Tuesday, June 25, at 5 p.m.