The Transylvania Times -

Everyday Education: Using Technology To Foster Community


March 5, 2018

Courtesy photo

TCH Selfie Career Day: Smith enjoys a lighter moment showing students one aspect of his job during Career Day at T.C. Henderson Elementary, with students who have since moved up to middle school.

By the time I got to his office at 9:30 Friday morning, Kevin Smith had already done what some would consider a day's work. The Parkland High School shooting had occurred the day before, and Smith and Superintendent Jeff McDaris had planned their response.

McDaris had ordered all school building flags to fly at half-staff (before the state or federal governments had mandated it). Smith had sprinted to the high school to photograph the flag lowered to half-staff and then posted several Facebook posts and tweets to reassure the community that keeping our students and staff safe was the school system's priority.

But to Smith, this priority task, which moved to the top of his list without prompting, was only first in many opportunities he would take that day to reassure all of Transylvania County that safely educating every child every day is their priority.

He admits this challenge often starts with a Facebook post or a tweet, either from himself or from the myriad teachers and staff from each of the schools, which unexpectedly hits a nerve, goes viral with awe, or simply conveys one of the multiple events that students across the county participate in.

Sometimes a simple post can take on a life of its own. Take for example the Facebook post and tweet of Brevard High School principal, Bryan Abernethy, introducing himself to the student body on the first day of school. Smith had decided to visit all the schools that opening day, arriving at the high school in time to film Abernethy playing the drums and then talking with students about his priorities for the school year, all couched in the story about how he had learned to play the drums.

Smith tweeted and posted on Facebook the three-and-a-half-minute clip of Abernethy; then it happened. WLOS picked it up to feature on the evening news, then returned three times to flesh out the human-interest story, and even did a Facebook Live interview with Abernethy. Ultimately this video earned Smith and Transylvania County Public Schools a Blue Ribbon Gold award from the North Carolina School Public Relations Association this winter. This wasn't the only state-level award Smith and the school system received. In recent years, they were celebrated for their Teacher of the Year videos and articles written by the school system's instructional coaches. TCS earned a second Gold Award in 2017 from public relations colleagues for the "Love the Bus" videos posted to Facebook and YouTube.

Awards are exciting, but Smith sees them as only a one-time-a year icing on the cake. As he says, "Success for me is when everyone in the schools can talk about and illustrate our mission - to teach every student to be a caring and productive citizen."

It's a big job, but Smith tries to make himself available to everyone, and he relies on strong communicators throughout the school system to help him. From loaning his camera to a teacher or student (and teaching them how to use it), to helping build a Facebook page for every school in the system, to being the camera person for athletic events, award presentations, special projects, and just the day-to-day events that make up the life of a public school system, his responsibility is multi-faceted.

"When people talk about the success of our school and kids, my job is working," he said.

Although he assumed the mantle of Community Relations Coordinator for TCS only four years ago, Smith likes to say he's had "a lot of years of training in listening." Having received a master's degrees in music and theology, he developed an appreciation for the power of communication as a teaching tool. Whether as a graduate teacher, academic manager in a global for-profit education business, or as a choral director, his career and understanding of the importance of community has focused on helping other people grow and succeed.

It all begins with opening the doors to conversation.

"People have to know we're listening deeply and that we have a good answer for what we're doing in our public schools, " he said. "He believes it's not acceptable to make excuses; neither is it OK to spin. "The truth will out; people always see through it."

Courtesy photo

The school system's communications plan aims to empower leadership teams, including Melonie Harris, April Gaydosh and Barbara Grimm at Brevard Elementary School, who collaborate with Smith to build social media and storytelling resources to reach families and the community.

The conversation is two-way. Smith sees his job as one of building bridges and opening doors between and among the schools and the community. They welcome ideas that will help them improve and encourage a dialogue that leads to the accomplishment of their mission "to prepare students to become caring and productive citizens in an ever-changing society through the shared responsibility of students, parents, educators and the community."

"It's a great job," Smith said. "Who wouldn't want it? There's no shortage of excellence in every one of our schools. Great people come here to do great things for our kids. There's nothing we can't improve by working together."

(Frances Bryant Bradburn is the 1:1 Teaching and Learning Consultant as part of a Golden LEAF Foundation grant to the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at North Carolina State University.)


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