PRESTON SMITH ’01
stereotypes, and I understand: ‘No, I know
that community. I’m from it, and I know
there are incredible people there.’ ”
Smith also had learned in high school
how low-income, underserved and under-
performing neighborhoods like his were
marginalized by prestigious colleges and
universities. Despite his stellar grades and
school leadership record, his application to
UCLA, just down the freeway from Rialto,
had been denied.
When he contacted the admissions
In San Jose, he tried everything he could
office to ask why, he says he was told: “We
know your school. We know your grades
are inflated. We take athletes, not scholars,
from your campus.”
The realization that college admissions
could depend on attending the “right”
school in the “right” neighborhood hit
Smith hard and left a mark.
think of to level the playing field for his
students, to give them a chance at success in
school, in college, in life.
He customized lessons, devised inno-
vative classroom incentives and worked to
engage parents. “I did a lot of family stuff.
I did home visits when nobody did home
The mustang busts out
Within two years, Smith had forged
deep relationships with families across the
community, and his students’ achievement
scores had skyrocketed, earning him the
school’s Teacher of the Year Award.
Smith was 24 when an appreciative and
ambitious group of parents decided to open
a charter school and hire him as principal.
“I told them to go find a grown-up,” he
said. The parents persisted, and Smith finally
They called the campus LUCHA,
meaning “struggle” in Spanish, an apt
description of Smith’s unexpected transition
from fledgling teacher to rookie principal.
Once again, as in high school, he found
himself bucking the establishment.
“I got my butt kicked that first year. I
didn’t know how to manage adults, and I
didn’t understand district politics. In my
first meeting with the superintendent,
he says, ‘I’ve heard you’re a mustang. Sit
down.’And he takes his finger and draws
a rectangle on his desk and says, ‘Do you
know what that is? That’s a corral, and
you’re going to get in it.’ ”
Smith played along while continuing
to apply his innovative ideas to the new
school. LUCHA offered him a laboratory
to enhance and test the accelerated-learning
techniques that had worked for his Teach
For America students, a chance to prove
‘Growing up in Rialto, I had a lot of experience with people
not like me. You learn to appreciate a community like that.
Others are scared of it and have these stereotypes, and I understand:
“No, I know that community. I’m from it, and I know
there are incredible people there.” ’
Preston Smith ’01
Left: Kajino Genzan, Japanese, 1868-1939: Flowers of the Four Seasons (detail), 1920s; ink, pigment, and white powdered shell on paper with gold leaf. Gift of Mrs. Joseph Palmer Knapp, by exchange, 2016.11.2.1.
Right: Unidentified artist, Japanese: Catch of the Day (detail), c. 1900-1920; mineral pigments on silk. Gift of Mrs. Joseph Palmer Knapp, by exchange, 2016.16.1.
ON VIEW THROUGH MAY 14
with Color Across Asia, a full-spectrum
reinstallation of the Ackland’s acclaimed
Asian art collection.
101 S. COLUMBIA ST.
DOWNTOWN CHAPEL HILL