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Suwanee Elementary principal feels right at home

Staff Photo by: Brendan Sullivan Suwanee Elementary School Principal, Dr. Kimberly Smith spectates as third grade students answer questions on Thursday. Dr. Smith has been the principal at Suwanee Elementary School for the past 5 years. "I always wanted to be an educator and this gives me the opportunity to do what I love," said Smith.

Staff Photo by: Brendan Sullivan Suwanee Elementary School Principal, Dr. Kimberly Smith spectates as third grade students answer questions on Thursday. Dr. Smith has been the principal at Suwanee Elementary School for the past 5 years. "I always wanted to be an educator and this gives me the opportunity to do what I love," said Smith.

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Staff Photo by: Brendan Sullivan Suwanee Elementary School Principal, Dr. Kimberly Smith interacts with students on Thursday. Dr. Smith has been the principal at Suwanee Elementary School for the past 5 years. "I always wanted to be an educator and this gives me the opportunity to do what I love," said Smith.

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Staff Photo by: Brendan Sullivan Suwanee Elementary School Principal, Dr. Kimberly Smith dances and sings along with second grade students Ashley Yoon, Lauren Cabral, center, and Sydney Reardon, right, during music class on Thursday. Dr. Smith has been the principal at Suwanee Elementary School for the past 5 years. "I always wanted to be an educator and this gives me the opportunity to do what I love," said Smith.

SUWANEE Kim Smith loves her job as principal of Suwanee Elementary School. It shows in her smile, in her conversation and in her surroundings.

Smith, who has been a part of the Gwinnett County school system since 2000, has headed her current school for five years. Prior to that, she taught first grade at Simonton Elementary, then served as assistant principal at Minor Elementary in Lilburn. "We called it 'Magic Minor,' another great Gwinnett school," Smith said.

In Suwanee, the Buffalo, N.Y., native feels like she's where she's supposed to be. "At the very first faculty meeting here, I thought, 'I'm home,'" Smith said.

An only child, she recognizes and appreciates the sense of family and community, both in the school and in the city.

"Our success is dependent upon our community. It's definitely a partnership."

Smith points to examples throughout the school that underline that sense of family, community and commitment to the students. Many Suwanee Elementary school teachers attend their students' sporting events and even birthday parties.

"We have teachers that come in on their own time to tutor children," she said. "Our custodian, 'Miss Rhonda,' mentors and tutors students. Our cafeteria workers are involved with our students. I love that about this school."

Smith, who began her educational career in Gwinnett County after earning her teaching certificate at Mercer University, sets the example for community involvement, as well. One of her passions is empowering girls. In 2011, Smith started and even coached a local chapter of "Girls on the Run," a program that involves physical fitness by training young girls for a 5K race.

"But it's really about so much more than that," Smith said. "We teach them to honor their gifts and to love their bodies. They learn that every body is different, and that's OK".

Smith is also involved in a community volunteer program called "Fertile Ground," another mentoring program for girls that includes activities ranging from assisting homeless families to taking cooking classes to dancing Zumba.

"I love children; I love to be around them," said Smith, adding that the only way she could have ever imagine leaving the classroom would be to do what she's doing now. "When I was teaching first grade, I always just knew I'd retire a first-grade teacher. When the children are that age, you're a rock star. Every day is a good day."

Smith said she knew even when she was a little girl what she wanted to do as an adult. "I'd go in my room and line my Barbie dolls up like they were sitting in class. My mom was a nurse, but I knew even then I wanted to be a teacher."

That love of teaching, of children and of family has served Smith well in her career. While she was at Simonton, the principal there asked her whether she'd be interested in joining a leadership program. After participating in that program at University of Georgia, Smith saw that she could advance her career and still stay very involved with both students and the community.

The principal's philosophy is that leadership is key in encouraging both teacher and student success. Suwanee Elementary teachers facilitate programs conceived by students; students plan for and participate in their own parent/teacher conferences. Ownership, Smith believes, shows pride in achievement.

A big fan of not only her school but also of Gwinnett County schools, Smith believes the system works well for one reason: "The philosophy here is that you're either teaching or supporting teaching. Mr. Wilbanks (GCPS superintendent) sets the tone. Everything is about supporting the teachers."

When asked what her favorite thing is about her job, Smith answered without hesitation, "The children. I love my babies."

When asked about her biggest challenge, she said that there are no challenges, just opportunities. "There's never enough time in the day to do all we want to do. I think that's true of anyone who truly loves their job."