Our school was founded in 1963 as Ridgeland Elementary School. In 2001, the name was changed to Ann E. Smith Elementary in honor of longtime teacher and administrator Ann Smith, who served as principal from 1969 to 1991. A wonderful educator and role model, Ms. Smith set the tone for the school’s positive learning environment, which students still experience today.
In 2010, Ann Smith Elementary was transformed inside and out, thanks to $3.3 million in renovations funded by the 2009 school bond issue. Renovations include a new front facade, four additional classrooms, an expanded cafeteria, new administrative offices, energy-efficient lighting and an overall facelift. These enhancements have created a more conducive learning environment and a greater sense of community pride.
The following feature article about Ms. Ann Smith was published in the Spring 2007 issue of Ridgeland Life magazine:
Ann E. Smith Elementary School – The Lady Behind The Name
Ann E. Smith Elementary School, formerly known as Ridgeland Elementary, was honored with the name of the school’s long-time Principal and Teacher in 2001. When Mike Kent, Madison County School Superintendent, took office, he saw to it that the school’s name be changed as a tribute to Ann Smith. “I enjoyed working with her and gained a lot of respect for her. She was a consummate professional and she was tough. She was a ‘Steel Magnolia’, very polished, calm and sweet, but she could be firm.”
Pat Sudduth is a 1st grade teacher at Ann E. Smith Elementary School. Miss Smith was the Principal when Ms. Sudduth started teaching at the school. “I remember when I walked into this school for my interview in 1983 I was taken back at that professionalism and standard of excellence that she exuded. She was a wonderful role model for education. I am so thankful that my own children were able to experience the wonderful learning environment that she set for the school.”
The professionalism that Miss Smith showed, she also expected of her teachers. Gwyn Bourne, 2nd grade teacher said, “As a teacher, you wanted to avoid her being disappointed in you. She demanded professionalism. It was expected and you knew it.”
Wanda Benoist, 1st grade teacher who also worked with Miss Smith said, “The desire to not disappoint lingers.” Wanda Benoist admired her leadership qualities. Sheila Perkins, Librarian at the school, speaks about how Miss Smith held everyone accountable.
Miss Ann Smith talks about these expectations. She said, “One of the important things about being a Principal is to let parents, teachers and students know what you expect of them and to always have praise ready when they did what was expected. It is important to let them know that there are things we need to do and work on together, and we need to be accountable.”
"I challenged teachers and parents to find where a student needs to be in order to learn to the best of their ability.” When meeting with parents, she might talk about the good things first, and then tell them, “We need to work on this.”
If a child misbehaved, she might say, “I love you but I don’t love what you are doing.” Ann Smith believes that children need to be praised and told that they are doing a good job. Children often need a hug, an arm around a shoulder or a pat on the back.
Ann Elaine Smith was born and raised in Canton as the youngest of five children. She was very dedicated to her mother. She never married nor had children of her own. Today, she still comes to programs at the school. One of the activities that keeps her busy is taking care of her oldest sister at the home where they grew up in Canton.
Graduating from Mississippi State College for Women in 1949, she went directly into teaching 3rd grade in Vicksburg. "I thought I was the luckiest person in the world," she said.
After several years of teaching, she did take a brief change in employment to "make sure that teaching was what the Lord wanted me to do." About her other job, she said, "The day was long. I became a clock-watcher." She knew she wanted to go back to teaching.
Miss Smith returned to 3rd grade teaching and then moved to Ridgeland Elementary as Head Teacher when the school opened in 1963. In 1969 she obtained a Masters in Elementary Education from Mississippi College. Then, she was “talked into trying an administration position.” She worked in administration from that point until 1991. She got to know more students, teachers and parents in that position. As a Principal, Ann Smith said, “It was a very rewarding job.”
Ann Smith wanted to do what was best for the school. The teachers never knew her not to be at the school. One of the teachers said that even if she arrived at 5:30 a.m., Miss Smith would already be at the school and wearing a smile.
Ann Smith modeled a work ethic and a dedication that the teachers learned from her. Pat Sudduth said of Ann Smith, “She is one of the most organized people I have ever met. Teachers and students always knew what was expected of them. You knew she always expected the best and would accept no less. Miss Smith taught me organizational skills, love for students, and a commitment to school and community. I owe my work ethic to her.”
Janet Shearer, parent and volunteer for the school, said of the teachers who started teaching at the school while Ann Smith was Principal, “These teachers model that work ethic for the younger and newer teachers.”
Jessica Rives, 2nd grade teacher, and Brandy Ackermann, special education teaching assistant, were both students while Miss Smith was Principal. Brandy Ackermann said of Miss Smith, “She still knows me and remembers my name. She is kind and tender-hearted and she cared about the students and the teachers.”
Jessica Rives said, “Miss Smith knew everybody’s name and still knows everybody’s name. She remembers my brother’s name even though he did not go to school here.” Her amazing memory and ability to recall names impressed students, teachers and parents, and it still does today.
Miss Smith said, “It’s important to know people’s names and to encourage students and teachers.” Like her influence on the people in her life, one teacher and principal in Ann Smith’s life influenced her. That person’s influence in turn impacts more lives today than you can count. Ann Smith's Principal during her early teaching years had been her teacher in 7th and 8th grade in Canton. Miss Smith said, "Her name is Anne Griffin and she instilled in me the importance of learning people's names."
As a Principal, Ann Smith said, “A real key is being positive with people. You meet people with a happy face and an ‘I’m glad to see you’. It is also important to really be able to listen. Let other people do the talking.”
Gwyn Bourne, 2nd grade teacher, knew Ann Smith as a parent before she knew her as an employer. “She amazed me,” said Bourne, as she conveys a story about Miss Smith. When Ms. Bourne learned from her daughter, Kate, that she was not happy at school, she called Miss Smith. Immediately upon hearing Kate’s name, Miss Smith described Kate’s outfit that she was wearing that day to the tiniest detail. That’s how attentive she was to the children. She told Bourne that she would observe her daughter and call back. In a couple of hours, Miss Smith called and said, “It’s going to be fine.” Bourne felt confident that Miss Smith was right.
Wanda Benoist said Miss Smith had this ability to calm people. Whether a teacher or a parent was upset, she could help them to feel better. Parents trusted her. Pat Sudduth said, “Parents knew that she would not accept anything other than excellence.”
Regarding student behavior, Ann Smith said, “I expected students to respect their teacher. Their teacher was their guide. They needed to say ‘Yes, ma’am and ‘No, ma’am’ and to mind them. The students would know that if they didn’t respect their teacher, they would be in trouble. They were to walk quietly down the hall and respect the rights of others.”
Miss Smith also felt that it was important to teach children patriotism. “One time per month we had red, white and blue day. During flag-raising, we had to be silent. It was a respectful time.” The teachers said that Miss Smith shared the importance of being a good citizen, love of country and appropriate behavior for school.
Pat Sudduth said, “The school is so aptly named for her. It is because of her reputation that families supported the school and its teachers. She continues to have a love for every student and teacher that ever walked through this school. She always has a kind word and amazes me with her memory of names. To this day she remembers former students, parents and teachers by name when she sees them out in public.”
According to Rita Kelly in Office Administration, so many individuals give credit to Ann Smith for her positive influence on their lives. Kelly has known Ann Smith not only through school but also through Woodland Hills Baptist Church for many years. She said of Ann Smith, "She is a modest person."
Ann Elaine Smith is given credit for so much success. Pat Sudduth said, “The growth of the Madison County public schools is directly related to her.” Katherine Washington, 1st grade teacher, said that Ms. Smith “was the driving force behind the school.”
During her years at the school, Ann E. Smith exemplified dedication and leadership, professionalism and strength, care and positive communication, listening and respect, accountability and praise, high expectations, appropriate behavior and patriotism, among many other qualities. “She is truly a lady,” stated Gwyn Bourne.
Miss Smith is quick to give credit to everyone else. She said, “Teachers are the key to the success of the school. Anything good that came out while I was here, I give credit to the teachers and the cooperative parents who helped make the school successful. Cooperation between parents, teachers, students and administration has to go together. In accepting the new name for the school, I said that so many names needed to be with mine.”
Today’s teachers at Ann E. Smith Elementary, who were fortunate enough to be either students or teachers when she was Principal, are also modest about their talents and abilities. Janet Shearer’s daughter, Mary Kate, when asked what she wanted to be when she grew up said that she wanted to be a teacher like Ms. Benoist. Ms. Shearer said, “The legacy of Ann Smith continues on in these teachers.”
“Today is a good day for teaching. Teach, teach, teach.” A.S.