Kimberly Mitchell admits that when she was hired to be the principal of Smith Elementary earlier this year, she was a little scared at first.
“Especially knowing it was right in the beginning of the school year, going, ‘Whoa. I’m going to be one of the new kids,’” she said. “That’s a little bit overwhelming but I’m very excited about the opportunity to be here. I’m sad to leave where I was, but I’m one of those folks always looking for what I can do to better myself, and I thought I was in a time in my career where I was ready to take that next step.”
Formerly an assistant principal at Creech Road Elementary School for six years, this is her first job as a principal.
Mitchell has deep ties to Wake County and the Triangle. Mitchell, 50, started her career as a high school science teacher 28 years ago after graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill. She also achieved her graduate degree from UNC-Chapel Hill.
She’s spent the last 16 years as an administrator at the middle school and elementary level en route to becoming a principal. Before Creech Road, she was assistant principal at Middle Creek Elementary in Apex, Kingswood Elementary in Cary and Lufkin Road Middle School in Apex.
Although she taught high school, she said she wanted to stay at the elementary level when looking for a job as principal.
Elementary school is often thought of as the most important level of school.
It is considered the foundation for a child’s success in their future years on into middle school and later high school. Mitchell, too, feels that way and she wanted to be a part of that.
“The kids are still passionate about learning,” Mitchell said. “The kids are still excited to be at school. The kids still love you. They’re like little sponges ready to soak up everything you give them. And it’s interesting to watch them grow up into neat little humans.”
Mitchell has three children of her own and she’s proud of them. One goes to Appalachian State, one goes to UNC Charlotte and another is on active duty with the military. She smiles when she speaks about them, and wears an Appalachian key chain around her neck.
48.6 percentage of students at Smith Elementary on grade level according to the state test scores released earlier this month
Smith Elementary is among the lower achieving schools in the county.
According to state test scores released earlier this month, only 48.6 percent of the students at Smith Elementary are on grade level. The numbers are similar at her previous school Creech Road Elementary (50.2 percent). But Creech Road Elementary showed strong improvements from the previous year. Its proficiency rating increased by 11.3 percentage points.
“Kim Mitchell has plenty of years of experience working in schools that have been low performing,” Creech Road principal Seydric Williams said. “So with her experience and just knowing the population and knowing the things they need in trying to push them forward, I think the school system made an outstanding choice in having her lead that school. She has the necessary skills to get the job done.”
Mitchell said her goal is to bring some of the strategies she and others used at Creech to Smith. By doing that, she hopes in five years, Smith can be one of the highest achieving schools in the county.
“I want kids to come out of Smith to be prepared for a global economy,” Mitchell said. “I want them to be good communicators. I want them to be problem-solvers. We can teach curriculum all day long but just teaching that curriculum doesn’t necessarily equip you to go out to be successful. So they need to learn how to work with each other.”
Mitchell said she was impressed by the relationships between the teachers and the students when she got to the school.
“It’s obvious that the kids here feel very supported and cared for by their teachers,” Mitchell said. “I think the teachers here have done a fabulous job creating a culture that supports the children and pushes them to achieve, but at the same time supports them in their efforts to achieve.”
Every child in this building has gifts, and every child in this building can be successful.
Kimberly Mitchell, principal of Smith Elementary School
Mitchell said she would also like to see some more traditions and extra-curricular activities started at Smith Elementary. She would also like to see students coming back to the school to show how Smith prepared them for the next level.
Her philosophy: “Every child in this building has gifts, and every child in this building can be successful.”
She said it’s the teacher’s job to find and develop those gifts and it’s her job to make sure her teachers have all the resources they need to be able to do that.
“I need to provide them with the time that’s required to do what I’m asking them to do so that they can develop the gifts those children have,” she said. “I need to make sure that anything I’m asking anyone in this building to do, that I’m willing to do it as well.”