Shelby Elementary School will not only see many new faces with the incoming kindergarten class on Aug. 28, but also a new principal, Dustin Smith. Smith, who grew up in Ronan and is no stranger to Montana, is adjusting to being back home. His last job was that of vice principal at George Washington Academy in Casablanca, Morocco.
“I grew up in Ronan and after college I spent six years there, teaching high school math,” said Smith. “Before teaching my wife and I had worked for a non-profit organization and we thought it would be neat to live abroad for awhile. We found out about schools using American curriculum, researched schools and met someone already working in Morocco and ended up there.”
Smith and his wife lived and worked in Morocco from 2011 until 2019. Initially Smith taught, but then became vice principal and served in that capacity for grades six through 12 from August 2014 until June 2019.
“Our oldest was two-and-a-half-years-old when we left the U.S.,” said Smith. “Morocco was great, a fun culture, and we had been renewing contracts every few years, but felt that it was either time to commit to staying and raising our family there, or returning to the U.S. before the transition became too difficult for our kids,” said Smith.
“My wife’s family is in Calgary so we looked for somewhere in between Ronan and Calgary. I interviewed at a few other places, but Shelby impressed me the most. I got a good feeling from the community,” he added.
The Smith family arrived here the first week of July and a few weeks later their fifth daughter was born. Smith and his wife, Amy, have five daughters, Avalyn (10), Alethea (9), Anissa (6), Ambree (3) and baby Adelaide.
Even though their oldest three daughters are school-age, the Smiths have decided that for their first year back in the U.S they will be home schooling them in an effort to not overload their children with so many changes all at once.
“We are trying to have as few new things as possible,” explained Smith, “so if things get harder they associate them with just moving, and not not liking the new school. In the future, they will be attending Shelby Elementary School.”
There’s been a lot of changes for the family and the difference in working here, compared to Morocco, is sure to have some challenges. But one challenge that Smith had in Morocco that he is looking forward to not having here is being able to communicate easier with parents.
“I’m looking forward to not having a language barrier with parents,” smiled Smith. “No interpreter will be needed and communication won’t be limited by a language barrier.”
The biggest change, aside from culture, is that Morocco has many options in the way of schools. In Shelby, the elementary, junior high and high school are the only options, unless students are home schooled or travel.
“In Morocco, a city of three and a half million, there were hundreds of schools and options,” said Smith. “Here, this is the only option for education and we have to find a way to make school work for all of our families. We are here to serve all students and families, not just a few, and there’s an extra weight of responsibility with that. In a private school we could be selective about the students we enrolled and educated. The families we worked with had the means to access any type of education they wanted.”
“I am excited to work in a school that is the primary means of education for most of the children in this community. The quality of education that these children will receive is dependent on the quality of our teachers and programs. That is a big responsibility!”
It’s a responsibility that Smith does not take lightly. He is looking forward to getting to know Shelby, what its strengths are and where parents and staff want things to go. He plans on having SWOT, (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threat) analysis meetings, with parents, students and staff. Working with staff that has years of experience at the school and not as large a turnover is something else he is looking forward to.
“There’s a huge turnover in large Morroco schools,” said Smith. “I learned a lot from getting to know a lot of people, but I’m excited to be in a school where most will be returning and we can continue to grow and build upon things each year and not always starting over.”
Smith hopes to meet quite a few parents at the open house on Wednesday, Sept. 4, and is open to setting up more formal times for parents to come in and meet with him.
Smith and his family have been enjoying getting to know their new community so far, visiting the pool and Splash Park regularly, the Farmer’s Market, attending the Marias Fair and Street Fair, as well as the girls attending Vacation Bible School at the First Baptist Church.
“The kids are getting to know some other kids and are enjoying it so far. One factor that drew us here are the opportunities for our kids, being able to try sports and clubs, like 4-H,” concluded Smith. “It’s nice to be back in a small town.”