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220515 SSmith Transcript

by | May 15, 2022 | RE@L StudentCorner | 0 comments

RNelson: [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to a RE@LCast™, a production of I’m Randy Nelson. Today’s guest is Steve Smith. Steve is a high school principal from La Crescent, Minnesota. And like every secondary school principal, Steve works inside of the day to day structures of a high school. Steve has agreed to discuss with us today some principal experiences dealing with vaping on the school campus. And so, for our RE@LCast™ listeners, it’s another opportunity to receive some RE@LInsights from a RE@LPractitioner. Steve, thank you for joining me for this edition of RE@LCast™.

SSmith: [00:00:39] Thanks for having me.

RNelson: [00:00:40] As a school principal, how has student vaping activity impacted the daily flow of your job?

SSmith: [00:00:48] It’s had a pretty significant impact. Actually, when I think back to five years ago, it wasn’t as evident and it wasn’t as widespread. And what my daily workflow looks like today versus five years ago is is drastically different. So one of the things that it impacts is just that ability that I always appreciated to have to just move about the building to see students, see teachers just drop into classrooms and then still be able to do all the other parts of my job. And now with with the vaping that’s going on, it’s a challenge. You know, as reports come in, you’ve got a lot of work to do then and it certainly does take a big chunk out of your day.

RNelson: [00:01:36] And where have you seen Steve that you’ve had to sacrifice most? I mean, principals are supposed to be instructional leaders. That’s supposed to be kind of the thing is that is there an area that discourage you most, discourages you most, that you haven’t been able to spend as much time?

SSmith: [00:01:52] Yeah. Well, as you know, when when an event like this happens, you know, there’s there’s a process, there’s an investigation, there’s interviews. We end up oftentimes because of the substance that’s being vaped or used, there ends up being police involvement, too. And that takes time. And when you look at …… If you if you look at a typical principal’s calendar each morning, it’s pretty tight. And so when something like that demands your attention, what it impacts is you may have had some observations scheduled with different staff on teacher evaluations, and those go by the wayside. You end up having to reschedule and replan. And it doesn’t just affect me, but it affects classroom teachers because they they’re at a spot where now they they have to think about how they’re going to prepare a different lesson and go through that observation as well. So and then it stretches you thin and the other areas. So maybe where you would have normally taken the time to have a conversation, now you’ve got to send a quick email or leave a voicemail or something to that effect. So those are the the biggest things that I see.

RNelson: [00:03:04] When it really does become necessary to address a vaping incident inside of your school. What’s its what’s what’s kind of what’s the process? And when you, for instance, bring a student or two inside of your office, etc., to have a discussion, talk to us about that process that you have to initiate on the spur of the moment to address a vaping issue.

SSmith: [00:03:24] Right. So usually what what happens is there’s a report made by another student or a staff person and observations. So we have to determine who it was involved with and then they come in to the office and and we do an interview. And in some cases then we have to search backpacks or other things to determine if they have any materials on them. And then the process from there moves into OK, depending on the outcome of those things, what are the consequences through the student code of conduct? And and so you have to go through that process. And then next steps are potential suspensions in school, out of school, there’s conversations that need to be happening with officers. There’s potential tickets that are written and then conversations with parents. So it ends up being a pretty lengthy process.

RNelson: [00:04:19] I’ll be back with more from Steve Smith, high school principal in Minnesota, right after this.

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Interview Continues…….

RNelson: [00:05:41] My guest today on RealCast™ is Steve Smith, principal of the La Crescent-Hokah High School in Minnesota. Thanks again for joining me, Steve. Generally, how do students respond when it is necessary to confront them on a vaping issue? And I’m curious about how parents are responding when it does become necessary to inform them that as principal, there are consequences and you’ve had to follow up with those consequences. How do those things work when you do have to address vaping on the school grounds?

SSmith: [00:06:12] A whole wide range of responses on the student side. There can be the open, honest admission. Hey, I’ve got a problem and I need help. And those are the those are the ones that you feel that you can make an impact and do something to help. But then there’s the other side, too, more of the denial that I don’t have a problem. And I just got caught this time, and they’ll handle those consequences or deal with them. On the parents side, that’s been interesting to. There’s there’s frustration. No one likes to see their child have to be excused from school for those reasons. But I’m also seeing more and more frustration from the parental side, and understandably so. The frustration is how how are their students getting access to these things and how they can recognize it in their home or or sometimes a feeling of helplessness that they can’t find it or see it or eliminate it. And then then they go into details about conversations where they’re at odds with their students and their children at home as well. So it covers the whole the whole gamut. It really does.

RNelson: [00:07:40] I’m curious, aside from the usual efforts to respond to vaping in real time at school, what if what, if any strategies can you share with colleagues, other school leaders that that they might consider? I think everyone’s in the same spot that you are. Talk to us a little bit about what you’ve learned that works.

SSmith: [00:07:59] Well, we’re still trying to learn about what works. I can tell you what doesn’t. We have people that I’ve had to suspend multiple times. So obviously, suspensions aren’t the cure all for getting students to stop vaping. And we’ve been able to really target some areas in the building that we’ve never really had to think about or consider before. So we’ve tried to put a little more supervision on that end. And we’ve also tried to work with staff on how do you how do you restrict movement of students during class time? You know, it used to be if a kid asked to go to the bathroom, that was okay. Now. Now it makes you think twice. And and so those are challenging things. I know other other colleagues have turned to the detection devices and and certainly those have mixed reviews. I feel right now the place that we’re at, at least in terms of conversations with staff, the place we’re at is how do we head this off rather than react to it. And we’re taking a hard look at where are we providing information to students that is relevant and do it at an opportune time, hopefully before they’re exposed to it or have an opportunity to be around it and try to win through education. A lot like what we did with the tobacco cessation, you know, the all the great resources that were out there that really were effective in terms of educating people. So I think that’s, in my opinion, the next area that we really need to focus on and that that of course, is going to take a couple of years to really get ingrained. But hopefully we can change some attitudes because it is very it’s a very casual attitude right now about use. And there’s there’s very little information and there’s very little concern about that.

RNelson: [00:10:02] Steve, thank you so much. You know, I’m aware that your retirement is on the horizon. And on behalf of all of us here at and having been there, I want to thank you for your years of service to the profession and support of students and their families and the communities in which you’ve served. Thank you so much.

SSmith: [00:10:20] Well, you’re welcome. And it’s been a great 37 years. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

RNelson: [00:10:26] Good for you, Steve. RE@LInsights from Principal Steve Smith, a RE@LPractitioner. For I’m Randy Nelson.


Randy Nelson


Randy Nelson is a retired educator of 38 years. He served students as a high school speech, theater, and English teacher. He served colleagues as a director of curriculum and instruction; and, most recently he served the La Crosse, WI school district as its superintendent of schools. He has a strong leadership track record promoting choice and innovation via unique community partnerships. He currently serves RE@L, inc as its Director of Education.