Educator looks to encourage others as he was
GOWANDA — Most high school students are just on the verge of becoming young adults, ready to go out into the “real world,” attend college, get a job and produce for their families. Even though they are so close to being adults, these students are still looked at as kids. A majority, if not all, of these kids at one point or another have had a role model. Here at Gowanda High School, the number one role model for many students is our Assistant Principal, Mr. David Smith.
Everyone looks up to Mr. Smith, but not everyone seems to know the bumpy road he has traveled to get to where he is now.
The adventure began on August 13, 1971. At just 1 pound 11 ounces, he was the smallest baby ever to be born at St. Francis Hospital in Olean. Doctors told Mr. Smith’s mother he would certainly die. The news was then brought to his mom that if he were to live, he’d be mentally challenged and smaller than everyone his age.
This thought didn’t sit very well in the mind of Mr. Smith’s mother. She told the doctor to get away, and that her son has great things to do someday.
Mr. Smith touched on this to affirm that God had other plans for him.
His mother told him that God kept him around here on earth for a reason; that he had big plans for him. Mr. Smith is the youngest of four children; his older brothers are 14, 12, and 2 years older than he is. Mr. Smith said his mother loved every one of her kids, and she certainly showed it. Most of the clothes that the boys wore were made by Mr. Smith’s mother.
LIFE TAKES A TURN FOR THE WORSE
When Mr. Smith was just 13 years of age, he went through something no one at that age should have to go through. His mother passed away from cancer. It was just the one brother closest of age to him living with him and his father.
Mr. Smith said it was tough because they were a very poor family. His father became an out-of-control alcoholic that got very physically abusive and violent at points. Mr. Smith recalled he would lay in his bed and shiver at night, wondering what kind of nonsense his dad was going to come home and do. Mr. Smith mentioned that the first person he ever knocked out was his father, in defense of the physical abuse that he was facing.
When he was just a kid, Mr. Smith was a trained boxer and “one of the worst to ever go through Ellicottville Central Schools.” He said he had lots of great teachers but one stood out to him. Her name was Mrs. Silvia Parrott, and she was not only the Spanish teacher, but the detention monitor, so Smith knew her very well, as he spent most of his time in that room.
After a particular incident, Mr. Smith was going to be kicked out of school, but one person stood up for him, telling the administration that if Mr. Smith were to be kicked out, then she would also leave. This brave woman was Mrs. Silvia Parrott. She stood up for Mr. Smith, knowing that someday he would do something great for this world.
A DEDICATED TEACHER SHAPES HER STUDENT’S FUTURE
Mrs. Parrott then continued to look over the troubled student that Smith was. She told him that he should go to college and further his education. He didn’t know what he wanted to be, so he thought, “Why not do what his only mentor at the time was doing?” Mrs. Parrott was a Spanish teacher, and that’s the career path Mr. Smith pursued.
At the time, Buffalo State College was a very good teaching school, so Mr. Smith decided to give it a try. Mrs. Parrott helped Mr. Smith apply to the school and get financial aid.
Five years after his mother had passed, his father had a heart attack and died. Mr. Smith became an orphan, and Mrs. Parrott continued to guide him through the hard times. Mr. Smith graduated from college and became the middle school Spanish teacher at Salamanca. After three years, Mr. Smith was so respected that he became the contract negotiator at only 24 years old.
After that, he earned a master’s degree in elementary education, which opened the door for Mr. Smith to earn a school administration degree. By age 26, Mr. Smith earned his master’s degree in school administration. He then was able to take a principal job at Pine Valley Elementary and was the youngest principal ever in New York state! Mr. Smith touched on the fact that after he got this position, he sat down in his chair and thanked God for all the opportunities he had been given.
Next, Mr. Smith took a position at Frewsburg Elementary School and served as the principal and special education director for four years. Following that job, he took the middle school principal job at Gowanda and been here for 12 years, serving the students just as Mrs. Parrott would have wanted him to.
The principal job in New York state changed after his twelfth year at Gowanda Middle School, as principals had to conduct more teacher evaluations instead of being with the students, and Mr. Smith said he was all about serving kids. To become more involved in students’ lives, Mr. Smith became the Assistant Principal of Gowanda High School and Middle School.
Mr. Smith has been a school administrator for 20 years now, and before that he taught for five.
CONNECTED TO THE COMMUNITY
In addition to putting in long hours at the school, Mr. Smith is the mayor of Gowanda. He also has a prisoner ministry with 39 people every Monday evening in Collins. Every Thursday morning he has 20 kids come to Tim Hortons for a youth group. And he also has a mentor group, run through the government, for 13 kids here at Gowanda. Last, but not least, Mr. Smith and his wife want to start a youth center next September! (Mr. Smith’s wife works at Frewsburg as a kindergarten teacher.) There is no joking around when saying that Mr. David Smith has a lot on his hands, but he manages it so well and manages to do everything with a smile on his face.
For all Mr. Smith has experienced, he made it known that his life didn’t play out like this by accident. He credits God with everything that has happened and said he thanks Him every day.
The main reason why Mr. Smith went into education was because he wanted to be someone like Mrs. Parrott was to him. He wanted to be the role model that she was and he refused to let her down. Mr. Smith said this is why he talks to Mrs. Parrott almost every day. Mrs. Parrott also played the role of mother of the groom at Mr. Smith’s wedding.
Mr. Smith has a picture of Mrs. Silvia Parrot on his desk so that when he walks in to start his morning, he looks at the picture of her and knows that he has to be the kind of mentor to students that she was to him.
The message that Mr. Smith wants to get convey is, “The whole point of going through what I went through, is that I have to help out other people. It’s not about me; it’s about what I can do for other people. It’s about the people I’ve helped and the best part about my job is, hands down, the students.”
Mr. Smith shows up every day with a smile on his face, giving out high fives and hellos to everyone he encounters. He is truly an amazing human being, and for him to be here in the school and community of Gowanda makes it just that much better.
Not many people can go from being told that he wouldn’t live, losing both parents, suffering abuse, and almost getting kicked out of school, and still achieve success. That, though, is just what makes him so special.
Thank you, Mr. Smith. You truly are an outstanding man!