As a senior in high school Dr. LeAnn Smith worked as a student aid for a kindergarten class. Her experiences there lead her into a career as an educator and ultimately to being Eastern Wyoming College’s new Associate Professor of Education.
“There was a boy in the (kindergarten) class who was so wild. He would run all over the classroom and he’d stand on the table and sing,” Smith said. “The teacher put me in charge of him.”
Instead of disliking the experience and the boy, Smith “thought he was a great kid, just needed some special attention.”
The experience made her want to go into education.
“I also had some extraordinary teachers when I was a student and I am inspired to be like them,” she said.
Growing up on a ranch outside Grover, Colorado, Smith learned the value of hard work from her parents, Andy and Marian Sierman. She was involved in sports, FFA and rodeo.
“Rodeo has always been a part of my life,” Smith said. She is involved in barrel racing, team roping and breakaway roping. She has a WPRA card in barrel racing.
After graduating in a class of “seven” she attended Northeastern Junior College in Sterling, Colorado. While a NJC she competed on the rodeo team. She finished her degree in Special Education and Elementary Education at Eastern New Mexico College.
“While attending college I worked at an alternative high school,” Smith said. “I taught in a GED program, most of my students were older than I was. It was a high poverty area.”
Smith did her student teaching in Grand Junction, Colorado before moving to Cody, Wyoming for her first full time teaching position. As a December graduate she was hired to finish the school year teaching special education at an elementary school.
Wanting to be closer to home, where her sister, Lisa Johnson who had recently had a baby, Smith accepted a position at Prairie School. The k-12 school is located between Stoneham and New Raymer, Colorado.
“I did a lot of things at Prairie School,” she said. “I taught K-12 in math and English, coached junior varsity basketball, volleyball and track.”
While at Prairie School she worked and completed a Masters in Special Education from the University of Northern Colorado.
“I had a lot of students who had special needs and academic needs, so I wanted to get my masters to better help them,” she said.
After receiving her Masters there was a change in leadership and Smith was named the interim principal. She was also the school counselor.
“If I was going to be the principal I was going to do the best I possibly could,” Smith said. So she began working on a Doctorate in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at the University of Northern Colorado.
As a principal “I wanted to help other teachers as they worked to achieve student and teacher success,” Smith said.
Everything was going well at the school. However, her sister had married a rancher from LaGrange, Wyoming where they were living.
“We’ve (Smith and her sister) have always been very close,” Smith said. So when a ranch came up for sale 12 miles from her sister, Smith and her husband purchased it and moved to eastern Wyoming.
With a Doctorate degree in hand, Smith began substitute teaching in Albin, Wyoming at Albin Elementary School.
“I substituted for a year then was hired on,” she said. “I taught a combined first and second grade class for a couple years.”
Some asked why, with a Doctorate, she would go from small rural school to rural school?
“Our rural students deserve to have the same high quality education our big city schools get,” she said. Also, “you bloom where you are planted.”
At Albin, she later became the school’s principal. She served as principal for 12 years until she accepted the position at Eastern Wyoming College in May 2022.
“I worked with an amazing staff,” Smith said. “It was also a very supportive and hardworking community.”
The school had a long history of success that Smith was able to keep going.
“We hired the right people and empowered them to do their job,” she said. “Get out of their way and let them grow. I have a strong belief in a growth mindset. No matter how much we learn we can still learn more. I also believe in servant leadership. As a principal it was my job to help others succeed.”
Under Smith’s leadership the school received recognition three times at the national level. Twice the school was honored with the National Distinguished Title 1 award and once with the Blue Ribbon Award.
“LeAnn was a great mentor and a great leader for our school,” Albin Elementary School head teacher Chris Nusbaum said. “She had high expectations for students and staff alike.”
Nusbaum worked with Smith for “more than 15 years” and said Smith “is very much missed, but we understand her desire to step out and put her mark on education in another avenue.”
“I am very confident she will be as successful with this endeavor as she was when she was at the helm at Albin Elementary School,” Nusbaum said.
In the spring of 2022 she worked as an adjunct professor at Eastern Wyoming College, besides being the principal and teaching special education at Albin.
“They were long days,” she said. “But something I learned growing up on the ranch is that hard work pays off.”
Leaving her job at Albin was hard, but Smith wanted to “cast a wider net.”
“All along (in her career) one of my missions has been to have a meaningful impact on people,” Smith said. “As an instructor at EWC I can impact not just one or two schools but all my college students can go out and have that positive impact on their students.”
In her first semester as the Associate Professor of Education she said, “I love my job here. The students are amazing and eager to learn.”
The education program at EWC offers degrees in Elementary Education, Secondary Education, Secondary Agricultural Education and Secondary Physical Education both in-person and virtual. For more information on the programs call 307-532-8200.
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