SPANISH FORT — Shannon Smith is the next principal to take the reins at Spanish Fort High School.
Smith is no newcomer to Spanish Fort High. She's served as assistant principal there for the last four years. Prior, she worked at Daphne High for six years, first as a math teacher and then as assistant principal. Before coming to Baldwin County, she worked in Mobile County as an IB math teacher for 10 years.
Now, she looks forward to taking the lessons she's learned as a teacher and assistant principal as she begins the next chapter of her career.
"I'm very honored," she said. "This is a privilege, and it's definitely not one I take lightly."
During her time at Spanish Fort High, Smith and her coworkers have worked to bring the Capstone Program to the school. Two years ago, that goal was realized.
"There are so many things we're super proud about at Spanish Fort," Smith said. "We saw that there was a need for more academic programs in our county other than just the IB program. So, we researched, we visited another school in Mobile County, and we found the Capstone Program, which offers its own Capstone diploma."
Smith said what makes the Capstone Program stand out from other academic programs is the ability for students to choose the classes they wish to take AP courses in, rather than being forced to take an entire curriculum in all offered subjects.
If a student passes six AP exams with a 3 or higher, they receive a Capstone diploma.
"It's a really phenomenal program," said Smith. "We offer nearly 20 AP classes at Spanish Fort High School, so our students really get a wide range of classes to choose from. That way if you are math or science oriented, you can get your six in math or science. Or if you're more into fine arts, we offer AP Music Theory, AP Art, AP Psychology and all the English's and histories. Or if you're just all around, you can end up with tons of AP credits under your belt."
These are nationally recognized credits and achievements, Smith said, giving students who earn them an advantage when marketing themselves to colleges.
Recognizing achievements is important at Spanish Fort. Celebrations of student academic success can be found lining the hallways. Banners with the photos of students in the 30+ Club, students who score a 30 or higher on their ACT college entrance exam, hang for all to see.
"We wanted to honor those kids that are going above and beyond, so this last year we really started highlighting them," Smith said. "It's like the senior banners you see at sporting events, but this is for academics. At graduation, we gift the seniors with their banner. Currently we have four banners still hanging because we had four juniors who scored a 30 or higher, so those will remain up this next year, and hopefully we'll continue to add more and more and more."
Smith said another academic success the school celebrates is graduating six National Merit scholars in the past two school years – two in the class of 2022 and four in the class of 2021.
"We're very blessed because at Spanish Fort, we have a very academic minded-community, so what we're hoping to make sure that everyone knows is that we are an academic-minded high school also," Smith said.
As for the school's teachers, Smith said even the ones who are not over AP classes are encouraged to train in AP.
"Because we're a Capstone school, we want all of our teachers to be like-minded in the classroom," Smith said. "Because of the generosity of the Baldwin County School System, they are helping to fund every single teacher that is interested in going to get trained this summer for free. We have encouraged all of our teachers, even if they don't teach AP, they are teaching the kids that will potentially be in AP, so we want them to be AP trained as well. I can't even tell you how many teachers we're sending to training this summer, we basically threw the offer out there and said we want everyone to go, and even the teachers that don't teach AP wanted to go. We're super excited."
Smith said help is in place for students who may be struggling with certain subjects as well.
"We also realize that there's a need to help the other population of students that struggle, and it doesn't come as easily for them," she said.
Last school year, the school hired two part-time math teachers and two part-time English teachers to come in each day to offer tutoring and classroom assistance to students and teachers. The positions have been paid for by the $3 million tax commission put in place by the City of Spanish Fort. The positions will be continued during the upcoming school year.
"That's been a blessing because that's the number one struggle I think with teachers is how do you teach everything that you have to teach and then go have that individualized instruction for the kids that need the extra attention?" Smith said.
SFHS also offers multiple classes specializing in trade and training for future careers, said Smith. Classes include engineering, robotics courses, sports medicine, business courses, home economics and more.
Smith said having a great team is vital for the continued growth of programs such as Capstone.
"In order to have a great team, not just a good team but a great team, I think all team members have to bring something different to the table," she said. "And all of us, we're bouncing ideas off each other left and right. We are just so pumped about this next year. I can't even begin to describe it. It's exciting."
"You want to reward greatness, and Spanish Fort has some great kids. I'm looking forward to showcasing the academic side of our greatness."