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Hard act to follow

&uot;I know I have a hard act to follow.&uot;

Those were the words of Dr. Nettie Collins-Hart after she accepted last week’s offer from the Bertie County Board of Education to become the new leader of the county’s public schools system.

Forget the fact that she becomes the first-ever female to oversee the day-by-day operations of this rural school system. Forget the fact that as a minority female, she replaces the county’s first-ever black superintendent.

None of that matters. Dr. Collins-Hart inherits a position where the top priority, at least in the early stages of her new job, will be to mend fences.

The tough act she follows is John F. Smith Sr., who, as of June 30, will be able to take the bull’s eye off his back and perhaps enjoy retirement.

It should go without saying that Smith’s six-year ride in the superintendent’s chair has been anything less than rocky. He has tackled everything from the NAACP, an organization in which he is a card-carrying member, to public inquiries concerning his annual salary to several well-documented clashes with the Bertie County Board of Commissioners.

Some of Smith’s problems were self-inflicted, not due to a lack of knowledge of his chosen professional career, but rather due to the simple fact that he was such an out-spoken individual. That’s not a bad character trait, but so often in his line of work, what is spoken can be interpreted in so different ways.

However, it can be said and interpreted correctly that Smith has made a positive impact on the education of the young people of Bertie County. He has set the bar high, so much to the point where he does indeed become a &uot;hard act to follow.&uot;

Since arriving at the start of the 1999-2000 academic year, Smith has led Bertie Schools to new heights.

His leadership is responsible for taking a system struggling to meet even the minimum standards of the statewide &uot;ABC’s of Education&uot; and Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) to one where, in August of last year, seven of its 10 schools were recognized for high achievement. Four of those schools – Askewville, Aulander, West Bertie and C.G. White – were hailed as Schools of Distinction with High Growth.

While in small increments, SAT scores have also been on the rise in Bertie County since Smith’s arrival at the Central Office.

Smith’s tenure in Bertie County have seen the system’s Education Foundation make great strides in generating local interest and local funds through various activities. Under Smith direction, a grant writer was hired two years ago for the school system. Smith’s foresight into that decision has reaped nearly $5.8 million in grants during the 2003-04 academic year.

In addition, Smith has sparked a high level of interest by school system employees and students in the Bertie County Relay for Life. For those efforts, Bertie’s Relay has bestowed several honors upon the superintendent. Another honor came Smith’s way last year when he was named as the Windsor/Bertie County Chamber of Commerce’s Citizen of the Year.

His steadfast love and support of those working in Bertie’s school system was no more apparent when, in October of 2002, he divvied-up the $15,000 bonus he received from the Board of Education due to rising test scores by donating $100 each to the county’s 90 school bus drivers while sending the remaining $6,000 to the Education Foundation.

While often criticized, Smith proved as a man of courage and integrity. We wish him well in retirement.