Jared Smith accepted his position last spring as the new principal of Muscatine High School. It was a semester of change and new opportunity. Smith grew professionally and personally. “I am really getting to know our staff, and things are going really well,” Smith said of his first term. “I think it has gone really fast. This semester has flown by.”

The students at MHS completed finals last week. “I was really impressed with the focus of our students,” Smith said. “They were really committed to finishing strong.”

This year hasn’t been without challenges. Midway through the semester, the school was affected by the sudden death of a student. “It is a very difficult thing to go through,” Smith admitted. The district takes issues of student welfare and mental health very seriously. “When this happened, we took some time to reflect on what we do, and what can be done moving forward. We have assembled a committee that is organized to create a strategic plan.”

The goal of this plan will be to continue to build upon current policies concerning how teachers engage students, so that awareness and guidance are part of a proactive plan to deal with student mental health and welfare issues. “We are always thinking of ways to engage our students. We will bring in speakers and make sure our teachers are aware and attentive to issues that may be affecting our students,” said Smith.

Smith also has been committed to encouraging staff and professional development. “We are doing some new things with collaboration and instruction with our faculty and staff.” The new shift encourages teachers in the same department to collaborate more frequently and evaluate the milestones of attainment in their students.

“Our teachers are sitting down and talking more. For example, our English 9 teachers are evaluating where their students’ aptitude is in a certain discipline across all sections of English 9. If there is a section that is higher than others, the teachers can discuss how that section may be teaching that concept and adapt prior to the end of the term or unit.”

Smith also feels great about how many students are involved and excelling in extra and co-curricular activities.”We are off to a great start in our winter sports,” he said. Muscatine’s show choir season is about to begin, and activities like FFA and Speech and Debate are continuing through the winter and second semester. “The engagement of our kids and the coaches and staff are tremendous. For example, two weeks ago the Speech and Debate team was in the building on a Friday night, eating pizza and preparing for their next tournament. The commitment of our students and staff has just been outstanding.”