Dede Smith, who has worked with the Petal School District since 1992, is transitioning into a new role: director of the Center for Families and Children (CFFC). Smith will take over following Nadine Coleman’s retirement.
Smith began her teaching career in the Forrest County School District as a kindergarten teacher during the pilot year of kindergarten implementation in Mississippi, so her focus early on was on early childhood since this is where she began her career. Smith is very excited to continue the work of the CFFC.
“Carrying on the work that Nadine Coleman has started is a huge honor,” she said. “Right now I mostly do elementary curriculum and professional development, so I will merge what I’m already doing and move my office to the Center.”
She will begin to make that transition this week. Working closely with Coleman all year, Smith said they have already started that process.
“As we move forward we will collaborate together until she leaves,” she said.
“In my opinion, working with our youngest children and what happens before they get to school is the most important,” she said.
A strong start for children before they even begin preschool is important to Smith.
“The role of CFFC is very important,” she said. “It’s like coming home for me. By the time children enter kindergarten they either come ready or not ready and we want to make sure they are ready.”
Currently Coleman is the director, and in that position she is responsible for all the activities there.
“We recently had a strategic planning update session and one of the overall goals that we set for the next four years is to look at what activities and programs we have, from birth to kindergarten,” Smith said.
She said they are working to provide background experiences and implement strategies to secure more funding for pre-K and more classrooms.
“I will be working to promote that,” Smith said. “We also want to increase programs and see what else is out there.”
Another goal will be to increase parental involvement and keep it consistent as their children prepare for school.
“Right now the focus has really been on preparing pre-K children,” she said. “We want to look at the services we currently provide, and we’re going to look to see what other opportunities are out there to enhance the services we already provide.”
While she is familiar with the work that is done at the CFFC, Smith is looking forward to getting to be more of a part of it.
“There’s a great team of people already in place, and I’m looking forward to learning with them,” she said.
Smith received a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education and Master of Education with an emphasis in early childhood education from The University of Southern Mississippi. She also completed requirements for specialist and doctoral degrees at the University of Southern Mississippi.
She taught kindergarten, second and fourth grades at Petal School District. She began serving as Instructional Coach at W.L. Smith Elementary in 2005 and moved to assistant principal at Petal Elementary in 2009.
She was named principal at Petal Primary School for the 2009-2010 school year. During her tenure at Petal Primary School, her areas of focus included the implementation of the Common Core State Standards, data-driven decision-making, strengthening early literacy and supporting the development of students’ emotional maturity. Smith served in this role until March 2013 when she was named Assistant Superintendent of Petal School District.
She has worked as an adjunct faculty member at William Carey University and has completed doctoral studies at The University of Southern Mississippi in the area of Educational Leadership.
As Assistant Superintendent, Dr. Smith’s primary responsibilities are professional development, support of elementary programs, facilitating implementation and analysis of NWEA benchmark assessments, and many other duties related to curriculum and instruction.
Smith and her husband, Todd, have lived in Petal since 1988, and together have three children who are all graduates of the Petal School District. They also have two grandchildren, Presley Ann and Grayson.