Mattituck superintendent earns Helen Wright Prince Award

09/30/2017 6:00 AM |

Over the years, Anne Smith has worked to teach the importance of acceptance and diversity in the local school community.

As superintendent of the Mattituck-Cutchogue School District, she included diversity as a key part of the district’s mission and worked with the Board of Education’s diversity committee.

Under Dr. Smith’s leadership, the district has also worked with Stony Brook University’s Center for Prejudice Reduction on many projects geared toward creating a welcoming culture in the classroom.

“Her leadership and heartfelt commitment to ensuring that all students, staff and faculty in her schools participate actively in creating welcoming, affirming and inclusive learning environments has been inspirational,” Sonia Spar and Valerie Shelby, co-chairpersons of Southold Town’s Anti-Bias Task Force, said in an email.

It is this dedication to the students and faculty in her district, as well as the larger community, that led the Anti-Bias Task Force to choose Dr. Smith as recipient of the third annual Helen Wright Prince Award.

Named for its first recipient, the award is designed to honor community members who have distinguished themselves as leaders when it comes to civil and human rights by promoting diversity, unity and fairness, the task force said.

Ms. Prince, who died in 2013 at the age of 101, taught at the school that opened in 1949 at the site of the migrant labor camp on Cox Lane in Cutchogue.

“I don’t think any of us would be where we are today without others who pioneered before us,” said task force member Leroy Heyliger. “We try to honor somebody who really worked hard trying to educate children.”

Dr. Smith has also worked closely with the Anti-Bias Task Force. Last year she brought students on Southold Town’s Youth Bureau to task force committee meetings to participate in their discussions about civility and respect.

She also works with the Equity Assistance Center in Maryland on numerous programs that counter bullying. She also helped to rewrite the district’s mission statement, making it more welcoming and inclusive.

“It’s critical to focus on because public schools are there for every child,” Dr. Smith said. “Every child who walks through the doors of the school is there to have equal treatment. The district made that commitment to diversity and equality, we committed to that so there’s a welcoming environment to build trust and build relationships.”

Dr. Smith, who attended the first award celebration in 2015, said she was surprised to learn she was this year’s recipient. She said she was proud to receive it because even though it’s given to only one person, it highlights the work of the whole administration, past and current Board of Education members and others who played large roles in making Mattituck-Cutchogue a more inclusive school district.

“When you look at the purpose behind this award, it’s just so moving to know that right in our own community that many years ago there were educators standing up for children, just as they are now,” she said. “It really reminded me of how important it is for superintendents to be supporting teachers to do that work, because the work is really in the classroom.”

Ms. Prince was honored in the inaugural year. Last year, the Anti-Bias Task Force chose Greenport resident Merle Levine, a former school principal, for the award.

“Educators have the possibility to make a positive, powerful impact in our lives and in our perception of the world,” Ms. Spar said. “Dr. Smith’s actions as a devoted educator clearly epitomize the extraordinary commitment to education and equality, which characterized Mrs. Prince.”

An award ceremony will be held Thursday, Oct. 5, which is World Teachers Day, at 6 p.m. in the Cutchogue East Elementary School library. October is also National Bullying Prevention Month.

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