This spring marked more than 40 years of service in education as Diane Smith, principal at Park IB-PYP, MYP World Class School, retired. Park IB (International Baccalaureate) PYP (Primary Years School) is located in Hot Springs and Smith is a Hot Springs Village resident.
Hers is a story of joy and love for teaching, learning, tutoring and building a culture of pride and accomplishment for her students.
“My father was my role model,” said Smith. “He was a high school math teacher and principal and was founder of the Children’s Colony in Arkadelphia. I learned at an early age how essential education is and how, when you’re a teacher, you can touch the hearts of your students and gain the trust of their parents.”
Beginning as a first-grade teacher in Hughes, Ark., and working in that  small delta community, she was welcomed by staff and families. It was not unusual for parents to make a teacher feel at home if a child needed tutoring. “It was such a wonderful experience that I'll never forget my first class,” Smith said.
Smith married and soon began teaching first grade at Eudora. “I had 36 students. That’s unheard of these days, but every single child was so respectful.”
Following a year at home caring for her first child, it was onward to Stamps, Ark. “I learned so much from the principal at Stamps. He was so fair and open-minded, teaching me how to turn adversity into creativity.”
Smith's next assignment was in Ashdown, Ark. When a millage vote didn’t pass, her class was opened to parents and voters to observe. What was needed? It was obvious. Smith’s class was in the lobby of the school; there was no other room available. Visitors would wander in and out of her classroom. It was not surprising that when another vote came up, millage passed.
One of the most interesting and challenging experiences Smith shared concerned a deaf student. “When I learned I would have this student in my class, I learned all the signing I could over the summer and when we started the school year, I probably knew more sign language than he did.” She incorporated the young man into her class and fellow students also learned to communicate with him. Some would sign and some would read lips.
Crossett, Ark., was her  next assignment, followed by El Dorado, working kindergarten through second grade ALE (Alternative Learning Education). “It was not unusual to have small children in ALE, as their families were dealing in drugs, burglary, weapons and even mothers who sold their favors,” Smith said. “I was determined to help my little children overcome these obstacles.”
She shared an experience with a small boy who was not always on the bus. She began driving to his home to pick him up. When observed by the police, they warned her how dangerous the neighborhood could be. She never stopped picking him up for school, and she never gave up hope for the child.
The next years flew by as she taught pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and third grade at Jefferson and Fulbright elementary schools in Little Rock, when she was named building teacher of the year and elementary teacher of the year.
Smith moved to Magnolia, Arkansas, and was named assistant principal, a position she held for three years. In 2010 she joined the staff in Hot Springs at Park Elementary. Smith was determined to bring the school to a level of accomplishment and pride for each and every student. A 20-page application was made to the U.S. Department of Education.
The National Blue Ribbon Schools Program recognizes outstanding public and non-public schools. The program celebrates school excellence, turnaround stories, and closing subgroup achievement gaps. It is a high aspiration and a potent resource of practitioner knowledge.
Using standards of excellence by student achievement measures, the Department honors high performing schools.
Park received its first National Blue Ribbon in 2009, and a second in 2014. An application for a third has been submitted and results will be known in September.
Smith and Lynne Crow, fourth-grade teacher, were presented the ribbon at ceremonies in Washington, D.C., and received a plaque and flag signifying the school’s exemplary status.
What other benefits did the Blue Ribbon honor extol? Park IB received $53,000 from the state of Arkansas, which was used for a “coding cafe” featuring robots and a 3D printer, to name just two purchases that would not have been realized without the honor bestowed on the school.
“I’m rooting for Sarah Oatsvall, the new principal, to carry on and win the third Blue Ribbon,” Smith said. Diane is married to Dr. Walter “Bubba” Smith, recently retired senior pastor of Christ of the Hills United Methodist Church. They have one daughter, Meredith Caver, who lives in Houston, Texas, with husband Graham and three children, Andrew, Kate and Louis. Their son, Will, lives in Little Rock.
Diane and “Bubba” plan to do some traveling and perhaps Mykonos will be a destination among others on their so-called “bucket list.”
Diane concluded, “You have to see something great in each and every day and if you stop learning, you stop growing.”