Huxford Elementary School Principal Greg Sheehan, left, now has another male faculty member on campus at HES, as John Russell Smith, right, has joined the school this year as a kindergarten teacher.
Huxford Elementary School Principal Greg Shehan, left, now has another male faculty member on campus at HES, as John Russell Smith, right, has joined the school this year as a kindergarten teacher.

It’s his 1st day, too

Published 9:57pm Friday, August 16, 2013

A member of the newest crop of teachers to join the Escambia County school system will have something in common with one group of students at Huxford Elementary School when classes begin Monday — it will be his first official day in kindergarten.

John Russell Smith may, in fact, draw more comparisons to his students than his fellow teachers. Like some of his new pupils, he is young and he is male. Third-year HES Principal Greg Shehan said he is excited to have a fresh new face, as well as one more guy, on campus.

“This will be my first (male kindergarten teacher),” Shehan said with a grin. “I think it will be nice to have a positive male role model for the kids. John is a fine young man with a great work ethic and I think he will do a great job for us.”

Shehan is not basing his opinion of his new teacher solely on the few days Smith has spent on the HES campus. Smith, a native of Goodway in Monroe County, was once one of Shehan’s students and has since become a friend.

“Mr. Shehan was one of my teachers somewhere around the eighth grade, when he first moved here,” Smith said. “We hunt together and he’s a great guy, so this is really exciting.”

Sheehan took over as principal at HES midway through the 2011-12 school year, replacing Donna Silcox. Smith said he feels lucky to be starting his teaching career in a school that has a number of familiar faces for him to look to for advice.

“I know a lot of the teachers here,” Smith said. “I graduated from J.U. Blacksher in 2008, so I’m not far from home.”

In fact, Smith said that while teachers at HES are busy mentoring their students, many of their children are being cared for by his mother, who runs a daycare not far from the school’s rural location in north Escambia County.

“My mom has run a daycare in Goodway for about 30 years,” he said. “She keeps the kids of a lot of the teachers here.”

Smith also pointed to the daycare as one of the reasons he chose a career in teaching.

“I’ve been around kids all of my life,” he said. “I guess mom kind of rubbed off on me.”

A graduate of both Faulkner State Community College and the University of South Alabama, Smith said he began his collegiate career as a nursing student, but changed his major when he decided his real passion was for elementary education.

“Nursing school just wasn’t for me,” he said. “I enjoy kids. I did my student teaching at Florence-Howard (Elementary School) and I taught kindergarten and fifth grade. I like the older students, but I enjoy the younger students and being able to kind of mold them. They’re a lot of fun.”

Smith, who graduated with a double major in elementary education and special education, said he feels very comfortable with the faculty and staff surrounding him at HES, but admitted he still has to work off some of his “nervous energy.”

“We’re meeting the parents tonight,” he said Thursday. “I’m a little nervous about that, but I’m excited about meeting the kids. Once the first day gets started, we’ll get settled down and just sort of get things going.”

Things are set to get going Monday across the county as the 2013-14 school year kicks off, and Smith summed up the new start with two words.

“It’s exciting,” he said.

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