Dr. Ryan Smith is a prominent figure in education, with more than 25 years of extensive experience. His passion for education began in San Diego during his collegiate years, following an encounter with St. Mary’s College basketball coach, Randy Bennett. This pivotal moment led Dr. Smith to pursue a career that has spanned numerous leadership roles, including Superintendent of the Monrovia Unified School District and Assistant Superintendent in the Paramount Unified School District. His expertise is vast, covering critical areas such as strategic planning, communications, labor relations, budgeting, and school safety.

At the heart of Dr. Smith’s leadership philosophy is an unwavering commitment to student success. He has been a consistent advocate for initiatives designed to ensure every student not only receives a quality education but also has the opportunity to reach their fullest potential. Under his guidance, Monrovia USD was ranked among the Top 1,000 school districts nationally by Niche. Furthermore, his efforts have led to significant accolades for outstanding PBIS implementation and AP program excellence, alongside the successful passage of a $75 million facilities improvement bond—the largest in the district’s history. As Assistant Superintendent in Paramount, Dr. Smith spearheaded the creation of Odyssey STEM Academy, a small, innovative high school that was recently ranked among the top 100 high schools in California by US News & World Report and also worked with Compton College to establish the district’s first “early college pathway.”

Dr. Smith’s impact in education transcends his administrative duties, as he is deeply involved in professional development and advocacy concerning critical educational issues. While he shares his expertise at conferences and seminars on occasion, his focus areas include educational equity, strategic planning, crisis management, and the impact of technology in education. Dr. Smith is also a committed member of various professional associations. He earned his Doctor of Education in K-12 Educational Leadership from the University of Southern California, a Master of Arts in Educational Leadership and Administration from Chapman University, and a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics from California State University, San Marcos. Continually driven by a philosophy that prioritizes students’ needs, Dr. Ryan Smith makes a lasting contribution to the educational community.

Can you describe a situation that you have faced during your twenty years of experience as an education leader where you have made reforms to improve educational equity in a unique or innovative way?

When I served as Superintendent of the Monrovia Unified School District, I was concerned about some of the barriers related to Advanced Placement courses that existed for students. The fees associated with the exams can really add up, discouraging many from taking them. Likewise, the courses themselves often have a number of prerequisites that prevent or constrain access to the courses themselves to those who are interested in taking them, especially for underserved and underrepresented students. To address this, I took steps to use district funds to pay for AP exams for all students, eliminating this as a barrier. I also made sure that every student was provided with a preparation workbook that they could use to study and practice for the exams. I also asked the district team to work closely with the principal, counselors, and teachers to support their already existing work to move beyond prerequisites for courses, resulting in greater access. This work paid off! Overall participation in AP courses climbed, especially for students of color, and scores improved. The College Board even recognized Monrovia High School for this work, naming it to the AP School Honor Roll and awarding a Bronze Medal.

How do you approach strategic planning to ensure every student receives a quality education and reaches their full potential?

This usually entails aligning district goals with student needs. In both Monrovia where I served as Superintendent and in Paramount where I served as an Assistant Superintendent, I spearheaded comprehensive strategic planning processes, engaging stakeholders to develop clear objectives and action plans. By emphasizing data-driven decision-making, we identified areas for improvement, implemented targeted interventions, and monitored progress through ongoing assessment. I realized that fostering a continuous improvement culture can ensure equitable access to quality education for all students.

In the course of your career how have you effectively communicated with various stakeholders, including parents, teachers, and community members, to foster collaboration and support student success?

I learned early that effective communication is essential for building trust and fostering collaboration. Utilizing various channels, I regularly engage with parents, teachers, and community members to share updates, solicit feedback, and address concerns. Listening to diverse perspectives and providing transparent information has helped cultivate a sense of ownership and collective responsibility for student success. Through open dialogue and mutual respect, we have strengthened partnerships and enhanced support for our schools.

What other initiatives have you implemented to promote educational equity within the school district, and what measurable impacts have they had?

Promoting educational equity requires deliberate efforts to address disparities and ensure all students have access to opportunities for success. I’ve implemented targeted initiatives, such as culturally responsive teaching practices and resource allocation strategies, to close achievement gaps and eliminate barriers to learning. By monitoring progress and disaggregating data, we track outcomes and adjust strategy as needed to promote equity and inclusivity throughout the district.

As a seasoned educational leader, how do you handle labor relations within a district, particularly during times of change or negotiation?

Labor relations are vital for maintaining a positive work environment and for fostering a culture that is collaborative and student-centered. I prioritize transparency, open and honest communication, active listening, and fair treatment to build trust and mutual respect. During negotiations or times of change, I engage in constructive dialogue, seeking common ground and sustainable solutions that prioritize student needs while respecting the rights and interests of all stakeholders. I also believe deeply in recognizing and celebrating the accomplishments of our wonderful educators who serve our students, parents and families, and community. It is important that they know how much school and district leaders appreciate all they do.

Budgeting is a critical aspect of educational leadership. Can you discuss your approach to budget allocation, ensuring resources are allocated effectively to support student learning and school improvement initiatives?

Budget allocation is a strategic process that requires balancing competing priorities while maximizing resources to improve student learning outcomes. I use a data-driven approach to analyze spending patterns and student needs to inform budget decisions. Through collaborative planning with stakeholders, we prioritize investments in instructional programs, support services, and professional development initiatives that directly impact student achievement. By aligning resources with district goals and monitoring fiscal health, we ensure prudent stewardship of taxpayer dollars while advancing our mission of educational excellence. 

School safety is a top priority for every educational institution. How do you address school safety concerns, both proactively and reactively, within your leadership role?

School safety is a top priority, requiring proactive measures and rapid response protocols to protect students and staff. I’ve implemented comprehensive safety plans, including emergency drills, threat assessments, and partnerships with law enforcement agencies. By promoting a culture of vigilance and preparedness, we empower stakeholders to proactively recognize and address safety concerns. In times of crisis, I provide decisive leadership, coordinating resources and communication efforts to ensure a swift and effective response.

I also believe that it is important to invest in resources to meet the social-emotional needs of students. Ensuring students have access to counselors, social workers, and other mental health professionals as well as related resources is a critical part of proactively addressing school safety.

Your experience includes notable achievements in PBIS implementation and AP program excellence. Can you elaborate on your strategies for fostering a positive school climate and expanding advanced academic opportunities for students? 

Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and Advanced Placement (AP) programs promote academic excellence and student well-being. Over the years, I’ve led initiatives to implement PBIS frameworks, fostering a positive school climate through clear expectations, reinforcement strategies, and tiered interventions. Similarly, I’ve expanded access to AP coursework, providing rigorous academic opportunities for all students and supporting their college and career readiness. By emphasizing high expectations and providing necessary support, I’ve helped empower students to excel academically and thrive in a supportive learning environment.

Professional development is crucial for both educators and administrators. How do you prioritize and facilitate professional development opportunities to ensure continuous growth and improvement within the district?

Professional development is essential for building educator capacity and improving instructional practices. I prioritize ongoing learning opportunities aligned with district goals and educator needs. Through targeted workshops, coaching, and collaborative learning communities, I have helped foster a culture of continuous improvement and innovation. By investing in the growth and development of our educators, we enhance teaching effectiveness, student engagement, and, ultimately, student achievement. I think it is also important to ensure that teachers and staff play a role in identifying what professional development they receive. It is important that it is meaningful for them, aligns with their needs, and will help them improve as educators, regardless of role.

Advocacy plays a significant role in educational leadership. Could you discuss your involvement in professional associations and how you leverage these connections to advocate for policies and practices that benefit students and schools?

I agree with you that advocacy is a critical aspect of educational leadership, requiring active engagement in professional associations and policy discussions to advance the interests of students and schools. As a member of professional organizations, I leverage my expertise and networks to advocate for equitable funding, supportive policies, and effective practices that benefit all students. I strive to influence systemic change and promote educational equity at local, state, and national levels by participating in legislative advocacy, conference presentations, and collaborative initiatives.


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