Smith believes in giving back to community

November 2, 2020
Nancy Smith has been a fixture in the Palmdale community for 30 years, and that did not end when she retired as superintendent of Palmdale School District in 2003. Her tireless efforts to improve the community, especially for its children, have earned her this year’s Robert E. Kelly Award, which honors retired individuals who help advance the high quality of public education and who have made significant contributions on a volunteer basis over the years. “She is a very generous person who is always willing to volunteer in the community while helping students, parents and staff succeed,” said current Palmdale School District Superintendent of Schools Raul Maldonado. “You can always find Nancy building baskets for silent auctions, riding a float in the Palmdale Christmas Parade, reading to students at the Read Across America event at our local mall, attending countless school site events, giving away jackets and backpacks to needy students, writing grants and so much more.” Originally from Nebraska, Smith moved to Palmdale in 1990 after her late husband got a job as a chief business officer in the nearby Keppel Union School District. They raised their three children — who have all gone on to be educators — in the Palmdale School District. “I love Palmdale because the people are very friendly,” Smith said. “I won’t say I know all 157,000 people who live in Palmdale, but I know a lot of them through my different activities.” After serving as deputy superintendent of business services, Smith earned her Master’s in Education from CSU Bakersfield in 1993 and became superintendent of Palmdale SD in 1994. Following her retirement in 2003, Smith waited 10 years before seeking a seat on the Palmdale School District Board. “I thought what I was seeing I didn’t like,” said Smith, who was re-elected to the board in 2018. “I felt if I didn’t like it, then it’s time for me to go out and try to make it change and make it better.” While it is no longer her job to run the day-to-day operations at the district, Smith finds it important to be visible at PTA meetings and site council meetings, so that she can stay engaged with the district family and understand how people are feeling. She said she is proud of the trust she has built with district employees and the team mentality she has created with Superintendent Maldonado. Smith is a 30-year member of her local Kiwanis group (and was just elected to serve as its president next year), volunteers for the Palmdale Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and has served on the Board of Directors for the California School Boards Association since 2018. Although she recently helped distribute food to families in need, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused her to scale back on her in-person volunteering. “I’ve found other ways, but I make sure I keep myself safe,” she said. “I probably spend three or four hours every day on Zoom!” Some of her proudest accomplishments include chairing the committee to help pass a $80 million school bond measure that modernized campuses with new playgrounds, paint, maker spaces and parent centers. Smith also organizes a fundraising dinner and auction to support the district’s Student of the Month program, which invites students and their parents to the district offices each month to honor their achievements. She said she loves going to those awards programs and seeing the smiles on parents’ and students’ faces. “I don’t think you can take all the time. I think you have to give more than what you take from a community,” she said, “and I’m a firm believer that that happens through volunteers.”
Palmdale Unified School District Board Member Nancy Smith, fourth from left, helped fund and develop a Folklorico dance program for students.
Name: Nancy Smith Award: Robert E. Kelly Award
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