With the first day of school slated for next Wednesday, the new principal of Capitol Hill’s Lowell Elementary has been trying an interesting strategy to get ready for the school year — being quiet.
“I’ve been trying to be swift to listen and slow to speak,” Dr. Marion Smith, Jr. says of the last three weeks since Seattle schools chief Jose Banda announced his hiring. Smith leaves Madrona Elementary to take the helm at Lowell following a tumultuous exit for previous principal Gregory King who resigned — twice — amid fallout from his handling of an investigation into complaints against a school employee.
Smith sat down to talk to CHS on Tuesday at Lowell’s Summer Social, one of the first open houses of the year. The past three weeks have been busy for Smith, prepping for the first day of school of September 5th.
“Lately I’ve been doing a lot of culture walks,” Smith said. “Walking around, talking to people in this community, finding out what they think, want, need. That way we can put something together based on the many strengths that are already here at Lowell.”
Smith said he believes simply listening and talking with the community is one of the most crucial elements in leadership. Rather than coming in with his own vision and set of goals ready to prescribe to the school, Smith has been working with the staff to utilize the school’s pre-existing strengths and reinforce the culture already in place.
“One of the things I’m excited about is the opportunity with Lowell to be what I call a ’boutique school’. By that I mean, a small school with a strong staff that can really specialize in personalized education,” Smith said. “That personalized learning, paired with a supportive environment, are important in a good education. You don’t have as great an opportunity to have that unique personalized one-on-one in many schools on a national level.”
By working within a smaller community of staff and students, Smith hopes to custom tailor educational experiences more closely to student personalities and needs. The goal for Smith, is understanding.
“A comprehensive literacy is very important in education,” Smith said. “Thinking well, reading well, writing well—a comprehensive ability to understand is crucial.”
Lowell is currently in the middle of its first fundraiser, selling $20 Chinook Books at Trader Joe’s and Umpqua Bank to raise money this year for the school. When not helping sell Chinook Books or crusading to give children a comprehensive education, Smith can be found hanging out with Menchie, the anthropomorphic frozen yogurt man and mascot at the new frozen yogurt shop in the neighborhood. Menchie’s provided free frozen yogurt at the Summer Social, as well as a lot of squeals from happy kids.
Smith’s background in education found him most recently at Madrona Elementary, but he has worked in schools in Philadelphia and Las Vegas, where nearly 300,000 students filter through the district.
“The idea is finding what our collective vision is — how can you take what everyone is thinking and bring that all together to make this school an even better place to learn,” said Smith.