Principal, Legacy Early College High School
A special teacher helped LaCheryl Smith become who she is.
“I was a late bloomer,” said Smith. “I was very reserved and shy. My first grade teacher thought I should be retained in that grade.”
Smith’s parents urged her on through early elementary grades in her hometown of Fountain Inn, S.C. Smith still flew under the radar in fourth grade. Grades lagged. She sat in a below-average reading group.
Loretta Hampton, her fourth-grade teacher, began taking one-on-one time after school with Smith. Hampton discovered a smart – but heartbreakingly shy – young lady. Smith blossomed with the special attention, and her life did too.
“I advanced from one reading grade to the next in weeks,” recalled Smith. “I’m grateful to Ms. Hampton for not foreclosing on my opportunities.”
“Now, as a principal, I tell my team, Let’s be careful with our precious cargo. You never know who’s sitting in front of you.”
Shy LaCheryl Smith became a formidable woman, intellectually and physically. She earned a degree in early childhood education while playing NAIA basketball as a 6’1” power forward on full scholarship at Southern Wesleyan University. She taught at every level after graduation, simultaneously coaching young people, including collegians, in classrooms and on the hard court for much of her career.
“Teaching and coaching share transferrable skills,” said Smith. “Building a team depends on the culture you establish – your mission, goals, and getting every person aligned. Creating an all-in culture is fundamental in education and in sports.”
A principal for four years at Legacy Early College High School, Smith sets clear culture goals. She wants every scholar to be college ready. And she wants to safeguard the health – emotional and physical – of every student and staff member.
Legacy offers innovative opportunities to scholars. A Legacy high schooler, for example, will visit an average of 10 universities before graduation, absorbing the look and feel of a college experience. Scholars take courses for college credit, learning in advance the time management and discipline college life requires. Legacy also has a full-time therapist onsite to help scholars deal with the tensions of growing up … and going up the ladder of learning.
Smith welcomes Teach For America South Carolina (TFASC) teachers. Legacy currently has six TFASC teachers, and Smith finds them to be highly motivated and sensitive – especially to diversity, equity, and inclusion issues – and eager to join the world of their scholars and community.
“Our schools are only as good as our classroom teachers,” said Smith. “Our young talent from TFASC is always passionate, coachable, and engaged. They do a little extra to be part of things. One teacher, for example, is our director of Beta Club. Another one leads our Art Club.”
“Every TFASC teacher we’ve had here brings a passion to teach and serve the underserved. That’s what I love most.”
Smith strongly feels that boosting rewards and incentives for TFASC teachers and traditionally trained teachers should be a slam dunk for policy decision-makers.
“Everything starts with a teacher,” said Smith. “You can’t name a career that’s possible without a teacher. Today, we’re losing teachers at alarming rates. Things need to change.”