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School superintendent intends to resign

SUMMIT COUNTY – Wes Smith, Summit County’s superintendent of schools, announced his plans to resign at Wednesday’s school board meeting.

“It’s my intention to retire sometime in the next five to 10 months – probably in the next five months,” Smith reiterated Thursday. “Not all the ducks are in a row yet … but I wanted the board to have as much heads up as (possible).”

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Smith’s plan

Smith started his career in public education 34 years ago as a teacher in Boulder. He and his wife Louanne moved to Oregon in 1978, where they remained for 20 years. Wes Smith became a high school principal by the time he was 30. He then became assistant superintendent and, finally, superintendent.



The Smiths returned to Colorado – this time to Summit County – five years ago, when Wes Smith accepted his current position. He didn’t plan to retire so soon.

“I thought I was going to be superintendent here for another two years,” he said. “Previously, to have the retirement pay, I was going to have to be 60 years old because I didn’t have all the years in one system,” Smith said.

Oregon changed its rules this year, however, in an effort to reduce its long-term liabilities, Smith said, making it possible for him to retire earlier.

“They’re buying out people over 55 – if we wish to be bought,” Smith said, adding that he won’t make a final decision to resign until he is certain all the paperwork is in order.

“This is not leaving because of any dissatisfaction,” he said. “I really want to do some other things.”

Smith and his wife plan to travel a little, and he has some personal projects on which he’d like to focus his attention.

“My wife and brother have gotten together and threatened me with bodily harm if I make any major commitments in the first six months after I retire,” Smith said, laughing. “My brother thinks I’m way too serious.”

The Smiths will remain in Summit County.

“The second-best decision I’ve made in my life was coming to Summit,” Smith said. “The best decision was marrying my wife.”

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The rewards

Smith is frank when speaking about the pros and cons of being a school superintendent – it’s not an easy job, and not everyone is cut out for it, he said.

“(It takes someone) smart enough to do the job, (but) dumb enough to take it,” Smith said, adding that the position requires someone with a good tolerance for ambiguity, a degree of patience, a thick skin and the ability to endure frustration.

“Sometimes I feel it’s a lot like hockey – a lot of shots on goal, but very few go in.”

Teachers and principals reap immediate rewards when they help students and see them succeed, he said. The rewards are much more subtle and indirect in administration.

“It’s probably as much fun as a surgeon doing surgery with boxing gloves on,” Smith said. “On the other hand, I think it’s a very important job. We have only one shot at educating these kids, and you can’t replace those years. I think it’s really important that you have a school district that’s constantly improving.”

As superintendent, Smith finds reward in ensuring that the district is attracting good teachers, improving the system and keeping schools safe – in addition to maintaining good fiscal management.

“That’s not very romantic – just making sure that schools are operating well and constantly improving – but it’s absolutely vital,” Smith said.

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Preparing for Smith’s replacement

School Board President Bill Pelham wasn’t happy to hear about Smith’s plans to resign.

“Whenever you lose a superintendent, it’s never good news,” Pelham said Thursday. “Wes has done an … outstanding job. He’s done everything the board expected of him and hired him to do. He’s going to be very difficult to replace.

“If there’s one thing that stands out, (it) was his ability to stabilize and enhance the funding for the district,” he said.

“Wes helped us bring a master agreement to Summit County – the first teaching contract in a resort district,” said Joel Hecht, president of the Summit County Education Association. “I think that Wes has done a great job since he’s come to Summit County, and it will be difficult to find a replacement.”

The school board does not have a set procedure for hiring a superintendent. It used a national search firm when it hired Smith and likely will again, Pelham said.

“We will start looking at the (hiring) process,” he said. “(But) we will not put the process in place until we have a resignation in hand. In other words, we’re going to do our homework and be ready.”

Smith said he hopes to have a final decision by mid-April.

Lu Snyder can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 203, or lsnyder@summitdaily.com.


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