‘Say it ain’t so’
by Haisten Willis
May 07, 2014 04:00 AM | 5839 views | 1 1 comments | 37 37 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Westside Elementary School Principal Dr. Karen Smits, who is resigning her post at the end of the year, gets a handful of flowers and hugs from Mary Ford Sanders and Walker Sanders as their mother Catherine drops them off for school on Tuesday. <br> Staff/Kelly J. Huff
Westside Elementary School Principal Dr. Karen Smits, who is resigning her post at the end of the year, gets a handful of flowers and hugs from Mary Ford Sanders and Walker Sanders as their mother Catherine drops them off for school on Tuesday.
Staff/Kelly J. Huff
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Smits gets a hug and a biscuit from student Emma Rae Gillreath as Smits helps the children out of their cars at West Side Elementary School.
Smits gets a hug and a biscuit from student Emma Rae Gillreath as Smits helps the children out of their cars at West Side Elementary School.
slideshow
Smits gets more flowers and a hug from para-pro Nancy Swanson on Tuesday.
Smits gets more flowers and a hug from para-pro Nancy Swanson on Tuesday.
slideshow
MARIETTA — Karen Smits doesn’t normally cry when she pulls into work in the morning, but Tuesday wasn’t a normal day.

Smits teared up when she saw the front fence around the West Side Elementary School playground covered with posters, decorations and messages saying how much she’ll be missed when she leaves the school next year.

“I thought I was dreaming when I first saw it,” she said.

Smits is finishing up her third year as West Side principal and her 13th at Marietta City Schools, but announced Thursday she is leaving the school. Teachers, students and parents were shocked at the news.

So Monday night, they went to the school and left the vivid display in her honor. On Tuesday morning, students came up to Smits and hugged her — as they might do any given day — but many came armed with flowers and small gifts. Parents stopped to tell her how much she would be missed. Smits was reduced to tears a second time as she helped students out of their cars.

History of moves

Smits isn’t exactly sure what she’ll be doing next year, but she plans to make a sort of career change, moving into a position in leadership development. She does plan to stay in the metro Atlanta area.

She has always been fond of journeying. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Smits wasn’t able to find a job in the area. So she got in her car and headed south — south even of Cobb — and took a teaching job with the Douglas County School System in Douglasville.

After 11 years there, she joined Marietta schools. In 13 years, she’s worked at the Marietta Center for Advanced Academics, at the system’s central office and at Burruss Elementary, in addition to West Side.

“Life is meant to be lived,” she said. “But my heart will always be at West Side.”

Smits’ announcement she was leaving was a huge surprise to the school community, but she said she was caught off guard by the huge show of support.

“I wasn’t expecting this,” she said.

West Side is a school of almost 500 children, most of whom Smits knows by name. Teachers understand Smits is someone who likes to move, but that didn’t mean they weren’t a little sad.

Signs read “Please don’t go,” “Say it ain’t so Dr. Smits” and “you’re the best, don’t leave the West.”

“It felt like a death in the family,” retiring music teacher Liz Carroll said of the news that Smits is leaving. “So many people cried.”

Students were equally emotional.

“I think she should stay,” said fifth-grader Ella Smith. “She’s such a good principal; she’s always happy and always in a positive mood. I don’t want her to leave.”

Liam McGregor, another fifth-grader, also sung Smits’ praises.

“Luckily, it’s my last year,” he said.

Fourth-grader Cade Mayfield talked about Smits influence on the school.

“I was really depressed (when I found out),” he said. “She’s kind, she gets us to do our best. She gives me advice and ways to improve and she’s always smiling. She’s one of the best principals I ever knew at West Side.”

According to Open Georgia, an open records database, Smits was paid $111,667.68 during 2013.

‘Thunder’ rolls in

Marietta Mayor Steve “Thunder” Tumlin stopped by Tuesday morning, along with city Councilman Johnny Walker. Tumlin went to West Side himself and has a first-grade grandchild at the school now. He stopped to pay tribute to Smits.

Randy Weiner, chairman of the Marietta school board, said the school system will dearly miss Smits’ contribution. Both of his daughters went to West Side.

“All of the school board wishes her the best and we are saddened that she is leaving,” Weiner said. “But we wish her the very best in her next opportunity. She’s been a great leader at both MCAA and West Side Elementary. She’s had a very strong focus on academics at West Side and school culture and the outpouring of support has been tremendous since parents were notified.”

Her last official day at Marietta schools will be June 30. Weiner said the school system is accepting applications and hopes to have the position filled by the summer.

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May 07, 2014
Such an incredible school. We have one year left. We wish you the absolute best, Dr. Smits!
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