USC Rossier Scholarship Recipient Finds New Purpose in Second Career

By Olivia Niland

Chad Smith  Trojan League of Orange County Scholarship Recipient

Chad Smith
Trojan League of Orange County Scholarship Recipient

The path to Chad Smith’s career as an educator wasn’t exactly a straight shot—the Rossier doctoral candidate played football at the University of Utah, earned his bachelor’s degree in urban and regional planning and was a successful entrepreneur prior to the event which rerouted his life’s course.

“It was a really sobering moment,” said Smith MPA ’96, who began to reevaluate his professional and personal goals after an ankle reconstruction surgery resulted in a staph infection which nearly cost him his life. “I realized then that even though I was doing things that made me money, all the money in the world wasn’t going to save me. I realized that I wanted to make an impact with my life.”

While in rehabilitation after surgery, Smith was advised by his former high school principal to consider a career in education. With this revelation, Smith sold his businesses and went back to school to earn a teaching credential. He taught at Baldwin Park and Fullerton high schools before returning to his own alma mater, Tustin High School, to teach. Smith also returned to his other alma mater, USC, to earn his doctorate in education this year.

“Having the opportunity to learn more about leadership and expand my learning has been a great experience,” said Smith, who also served as the assistant principal at Tustin High School and is now the principal of South Hills High in the Covina Valley Unified School District.

Having an EdD is pretty much a requirement in school leadership these days. I knew that I wanted to come back to USC because it’s really the best, and Rossier has such an amazing reputation and the best and brightest educators in the field.

– Chad Smith

Smith, a Tustin native, received a $10,000 scholarship from the Trojan League of Orange County (TLOC) to support his doctoral studies at USC Rossier for 2013-14.

TLOC is an Orange County-based USC alumni organization that awards scholarships to Trojans from the region and works to bring the history, traditions and accomplishments of USC to prominence in Orange County. In 2012, the group raised $30,000 in scholarship support for USC Rossier at its annual fundraiser. Chad Smith was one of three scholarship award winners who are from or work in Orange County and are enrolled in either Rossier’s Master of Arts in Teaching or Doctor of Education program.

“The Trojan League of Orange County scholarship has been incredibly helpful in allowing me to pursue my educational goals,” said Smith, who earned his master’s degree in public administration from USC in 1996. “Scholarships are so important because they really build a community and create a sense of belonging, of giving back to and supporting future generations of educators.”

Jakki Tonkovich, former TLOC scholarship chair, said that Smith exemplifies the kind of education leaders the organization wants to support in the Orange County region.

“Excellent teachers and education leaders are so important to our success, not just in Orange County but nationally,” she said. “Rossier’s top-notch academic programs are producing the best and the brightest in education, and we want to support a pipeline of these graduates in our Orange County schools and districts.”

At Tustin High, Smith served as an earth science and oceanography teacher as well as an Associated Student Body advisor, assistant principal, and football, basketball and track coach. Through these diverse positions, Smith was able to support students both inside and outside of the classroom, and give back to his hometown and high school.

“It’s important for me to be involved in as many facets of supporting students as possible,” said Smith. “With a lot of kids, there’s not always a lot of parental involvement or mentorship. I had a great experience at Tustin, and I really feel a sense of obligation to give back to kids in my community.”

Smith is credited with developing and implementing specialized programs at Tustin, including a STEM program, 1:1 notebook computer program, online learning program, and expanding and enhancing Tustin’s ASB and Model United Nations programs. He also developed and implemented the THS freshman academy, championed a new bell schedule and has received praise for helping to revitalize Tustin High School.

Smith was named Co-Administrator of the Year by the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA) Region 17. He became principal of South Hills High School in 2012, where he continues to advocate for improving education to better serve students. Currently, Smith is working on a 1:1 iPad initiative for the high school, and is also overseeing South Hills’ transition to the Common Core State Standards.

After receiving his EdD from USC Rossier, Smith plans to become a superintendent.

“I want the opportunity to influence and lead instructional practices and impact the lives of thousands of kids,” said Smith.  “I think it’s a noble pursuit to serve a community of children that deserves a valuable education, and to promote the idea that kids come first.”

For Smith, putting kids first isn’t just an idea—it’s a driving force in his life. During his time at Tustin High School, Smith and his wife, already parents to two children, became the legal guardians of a Tustin graduate and football player named Edward.

“He had a tough upbringing,” Smith said of Edward, who now attends and plays football at UC Berkeley. “We took him in as a freshman, and he became one of our kids.”

Smith’s experience working toward his doctorate at USC Rossier, while also transitioning South Hills High School into improved learning practices, has been, according to Smith, a highly rewarding experience.

“There is definitely a lot of synergy between those two things,” said Smith. “It’s a wonderful challenge and opportunity to be teaching kids key skillsets that are much more valuable and useful, while also attending classes at Rossier, where I’m receiving a tremendous education and being exposed to the best professors in the field. It’s exciting to be in the midst of all these things, and it’s an exciting time to be in education.”

Related Story: Trojan League of Orange County (TLOC) Scholarship