“Compliance gives you mediocrity; What we want is greatness.” - Dr. Gary Smuts
No other words could represent the kind of mentality shared by the 's work ethic, especially coming from the mouth of its superintendent, Dr. Gary Smuts. With less than a week to go before his retirement, Smuts still has it in him to keep fighting the good fight in giving his community the best education it can with so little at hand.
Smuts recently reflected on his 1950s childhood growing up in Norwalk, being able to play in the neighborhood when the area was still dairy and farmland.
“It was a paradise for a kid,” Smuts said. “I had a wonderful excellent childhood. It was great to grow up in Southern California.”
In his teenage years, Smuts attended Norwalk High School, and went onto Cerritos College where he played football and was on the speech and debate team. He earned his Bachelor's of Arts in History at California State University Fullerton, his Master's degree in History at Chapman University and finally his doctorate in Leadership at La Verne University. Education has certainly played an important role throughout Smuts' life.
Smuts married his wife, Laura, in 1972, and they went on to have three children together. He now has five grandchildren, and said that one of the things he looks forward to in his retirement is being a better grandfather.
Smuts' first jobs at ABCUSD included teaching social studies, being appointed assistant principal at and eventually principal of . Smuts would go on to be the deputy superintendent, and finally, the district's superintendent in 2005. And in between all those roles, he also juggled duties as a track and football coach during his tenure with the district.
“No jobs left” Smuts joked. “I held them all. I had no gameplan to become superintendent when I became teacher. My aspirations didn’t really extend beyond making a difference with students by being a history and social studies teacher and also by coaching.”
And through the years, Smuts always managed to walk across the district building's parking lot with a smile on his face each and every day.
“The smile comes from being surprised that I'm here,” Smuts said. “Who could really plan to be a superintendent? Its a matter of luck. Importantly, its a matter of 'Do you fit the district?' 'Does your profile and what you’re able to do and know match what the needs of the district are?' And one hopes that the board will make the right decision. Nothing is automatic. There’s a bit of magic and serendipity with picking the right person.”
With that said, Smuts had nothing but great things to say about .
“When I had a choice to pick a deputy superintendent, nobody else had come to mind, and I was honored that she agreed to do that. The district could have done a search of the world, the universe, all eight planets, plus a planetoid or two, and they would not have found anybody better than Dr. Sieu,” he said.
Despite the constant optimism in his career, Smuts said he wishes the state of California would start funding education better than the below average way it is being funded now. With the state being at the bottom of school funding, he believes it makes no sense as a good business model, for example, no one would expect to pay less for a great car or a great meal.
“We do more with less, and our morale is still high,” Smuts said. “We don’t lay people off. We cut back, but we don’t rehire people when they retire or resign. It's all about the people.”
And with his days with the district nearing the end, Smuts says he plans to spend his days doing more fishing, getting into better physical shape by getting into cycling, growing vegetables in the winter, and being a better husband.
Smuts admitted that the best job he ever had was being the ABCUSD superintendent, saying it's an honorable position that he has always been in awe of.
“It's a challenge, and it's rewarding,” Smuts said. “We've done good work.”
Smuts official last day with the district is June 30; Sieu will begin her new post on July 1.