Newport-Mesa Unified School District names new superintendent

The Newport-Mesa Unified School District has announced its next superintendent.

Dr. Wesley Smith, who has 24 years experience in California public schools, including 13 years as a site or district leader, was selected by the Board of Education to lead the 18,000-student district following the retirement of Russell Lee-Sung. Smith’s expected start date is Oct. 18. 

“I strongly believe in visible, service oriented, collaborative leadership,” he said in a statement. “As superintendent, I spent a significant amount of time at school sites and in the community to better identify system and stakeholder needs and values.”

Dr. Wesley Smith

Dr. Wesley Smith

Smith most recently served as executive director of the Association of California School Administrators, the largest umbrella organization for school leaders in the United States. Before ACSA, he was superintendent of the Morgan Hill Unified School District, and he served as superintendent, assistant superintendent and a principal in the Cascade Union Elementary School District.

He has also been a high school English teacher, an English language development teacher and a Spanish teacher, as well as a football and baseball coach.

In addition to his K-12 experience, Smith is an adjunct professor in the doctoral program at the University of Southern California, and he was an adjunct professor for Shasta Community College and National University.

Newport-Mesa officials characterized Smith as “a strong leader with a systems approach to student achievement.” He is credited with narrowing achievement gaps, building positive working relationships and giving families a voice. The district added that he also served on the board of the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team, which assists California school districts and county offices of education with fiscal advice, management assistance, training and audits.

“Dr. Smith is a responsible steward of public funds, having successfully maintained a balanced budget amidst funding cuts and declining enrollment during the Great Recession, all while focused on providing staff resources to continue to meet student needs,” the district said in a news release issued Sept. 9.

“Hiring a superintendent is one of the most important roles of a school board, and I am pleased that our board unanimously agreed that Dr. Smith would be the best to lead our district to greater success,” said NMUSD Board President Karen Yelsey.

As part of its search process, the NMUSD Board of Education solicited feedback from local stakeholders, who indicated their preference for an experienced public school leader with a proven track record of success and community building, along with strong communication skills.

“Dr. Smith has the experience and established leadership qualities that our stakeholders and we, as a board, were looking for,” Yelsey said. “We are excited to welcome him into the Newport-Mesa community.”

Smith earned his bachelor’s degree in English from Brigham Young University, his master’s degree from Claremont Graduate School, and a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Southern California.

Among his accolades, he was named the California Association of Student Councils Educator of the Year, and he received the PTA’s Golden Oak Service Award, which is presented to an individual or organization that has made significant contributions to the welfare of children. The City of Morgan Hill also gave him the key to the city.

Smith’s contract will be up for a vote at the school board’s Sept. 14 meeting.