By Adam Strunk
Newton High School Principal Caleb Smith is top of the class in Kansas.
On Monday morning, USD-373 announced Smith had been named the 2022 Kansas principal of the year by the Kansas Principals Association. As previously written, Smith was a finalist for the state’s top designation among all secondary principals.
“Mr. Smith has done an outstanding job of trying to create an amazing culture at Newton High School and within the Newton communities and it shows,” Superintendent Fred Van Ranken said in a district press release. “I am so happy for Caleb to be recognized at the state level for what he and his team are doing at USD-373.”
“It was a surprise,” Smith said of the honor, noting he thought they already gave out the awards. “I saw they recognized the elementary one. I assumed I didn’t win.”
Smith noted that the award wouldn’t have happened without help.
“Obviously, I wouldn’t have this recognition if not for the great staff around me and in the district and great students, so I’m really appreciative of that,” he said.
Smith came to Newton High School in 2020 from the Valley Center School District, where he’d worked since 2013. During his time in Newton, Smith has implemented multiple initiatives aimed at improving school culture, as well as strengthening school bonds.
“It’s hard to quantify change and culture,” Smith said. “But anytime you hear one more kid saying they feel like Newton High School is a good place to feel safe and they can voice opinions, hearing that is a good indicator.”
He spearheaded the creation of a student advocacy group to give students more of a voice in the district. He organized the Sunshine Club, a group of students that undertakes positive actions within the district, as well as the community at large.
Smith said he thought building culture was similar to how you build a team. He worked as a football coach at Valley Center for part of his career.
“Good coaches have players who know you care about them and being a principal is no different,” he said. “Students and staff need to know that you care and you will go to bat for them.”
Smith is also a regular face at most high school events with a camera in hand. Such work has helped publications, such as Harvey County Now, further highlight local student actions.
The district notified Smith of the award following a scavenger hunt with clues. A group of staff awaited Smith’s arrival to the school media center for the big reveal, according to the school district.
As part of the award, Mr. Smith will go to Washington, D.C., later this year, where he’ll visit with Kansas representation on needs and issues in education.