When the Family and Faith Magazine team arrived at Allman Town Primary School in Kingston, we couldn’t help but notice the smart Bluetooth earpiece on Kandi-Lee’s ear, her quiet confidence and sense of assurance and grace as she walked across the schoolyard; instructing a child here, talking with a teacher there. This was no ordinary educator. The petite youthful dynamo is a superlative principal with achievements, awards and accolades to fill the seats in any primary school classroom…and that’s a lot of seats! In this Easter Edition, we couldn’t be more pleased to showcase the story of the sweet, humble and considerate Lasco / Ministry of Education Principal of the Year, Kandi-Lee Crooks Smith and how her faith charts her personal and professional success.
Through the eyes of her adoring husband of 14 years, Kandi-Lee is “such a humble person. I don’t think most people who know her, really know all that she has accomplished and all the awards she has. They are not the stars in her crown,” Oniel Smith told Family and Faith Magazine. “She is always seeking how to help someone else, sometimes giving of her per personal things. I tease her and say she should take the bed to school next, because whatever is needed for the school, the students and teachers to benefit, she is going to get it,” he shared.
Describing her as “nice to be near, conscientious and kind,” Oniel says the mother of their two children (Jo-Nathan, 11 and Kayth-Lyn 4), “loves from the depths of her being. I know she is tired, but she has a drive to keep going that keeps everyone else going. Sometimes I feel like Aaron, holding her hand up. No sense telling her not to do something if she is sure that’s what the Lord is instructing her to do.”
Reflecting on their years of married life, Oniel, employed to the Ministry of Education, speaks with intimacy and appreciation for his ‘Kandi’: “I remember the days when we just got married I was doing voluntary work at church and between us there was not a lot of funds. She doesn’t make a fuss about getting material things- clothes, shoes etc. There are many times she does her own nails and hair (of course I have to help plait the braids, or relax the back of her hair), but given how busy she is and our lifestyle, she just always says whatever we have we will make it work. She still says she is sticking by me through the poorer, so she qualifies for the richer! She is my traveling companion we do everything together. There is never a dull moment.”
Kandi-Lee is a trained teacher employed to the Ministry of Education in Jamaica. She holds a diploma in Primary Education from the Mico Teachers’ College (Now University College), and a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from the Mount St. Vincent University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She also has a certificate from East China Normal University and was one of two Jamaican Principals who received a Fellowship- Seminar for Principals in the Caribbean, South Pacific and Latin American Countries – Shanghai, China 2014. Presently, Kandi-Lee is the principal of the Allman Town Primary School.
In addition to her educational prowess, the educator has received numerous awards for her work in education and the development of the Allman Town Community. She has also shared her experience and knowledge through a variety of workshops and seminars.
- 2015-2016 Lasco/Ministry of Education Principal of the Year
- Governor General’s Youth Award of Excellence 2009-significant contribution to community
- The British Council/Ministry of Education System and School Management Coaching Programme – Trainer
- Mentor and Coach of Principals in Jamaica
- The International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) the U.S. Department of State’s premier professional exchange program – 2013
- Presenter – Trainer of Leaders USAID/ Ministry of Education Jamaica Basic Education Project 2011
- Presenter-Canadian Obesity Conference, Vancouver BC May 2013
- Presenter- Conquering Childhood Obesity Symposium 2012, University of Toronto
- Guest and Motivational Speaker- various schools and organizations 2008-present
- The Mico University College 175th Anniversary Award of Excellence 2011
- The Mico Teachers College Top Ten Awardee 1998-Student of the Year Competition
- Valedictorian – Mount St. Vincent University November 2009
- Jamaica Teaching Council Award for Leadership and Achievement of Excellence September 2010
Family and Faith Magazine’s Editorial Director, Shelly-Ann Harris sat with Kandi-Lee to learn more about the lady behind the accolades and achievements.
SAH: How has your faith influenced your professional choices?
KLCS: My steps are ordered by God. I have always asked Him to lead me and direct my choices. I also have a host of persons who lift me up in prayer. My mom has a sixth sense that is always alert. She will call and give a blessing or a word of encouragement when it’s really needed. I have parents who will call and say they are praying for me.
I always wanted to be a teacher; I think it was influenced by my Aunt and the dedication with which she served her students. I remember asking God what I should do after leaving sixth form at St. Andrew High School for Girls. I was not even at the acceptable entry age at the time of application. I was too young. But I was accepted and given an Advanced Placement at Mico, so I went straight to the second year of college. I was living in Allman Town where I grew up and my mother, aunt and grandmother definitely weren’t rich! Mico was therefore my best option financially, but outside of that, it was all in God’s plan for my life. I walked to and from the Mico. I met amazing lecturers who saw value in me, and took me under their wings. There were times I stayed behind or I walked to the college just to get supper from the cafeteria. The cooks began to look out for me. Now there is a bond between Mico and me. This has allowed our teachers and students to benefit from numerous initiatives.
Now whenever situations or opportunities present themselves, I place them before God. Like David, I ask ‘Should I go Up, Lord?’ I am constantly asking for His direction. I guess that is a manner of praying without ceasing. It’s that heart to heart conversation that happens even without any forced effort. It’s that subconscious connection that keeps my spirit conscious and my mind conscientious at the same time.
SAH: Keep your spirit conscious and your mind conscientious, I like that. Describe for us now your relationship with your students and teachers.
KLCS: The students and by extension the parents are very special to me. I think it’s because I understand from firsthand experience what it is they go through on a daily basis. Living in the inner-city has its fair share of struggles and its fair share of hopelessness attached to the struggles. But when students realize that somebody actually cares and has hopes for them to succeed, they begin to have that intrinsic motivation, they too want to excel regardless of their circumstances. They and their parents are appreciative. I have an open door policy for most students and staff, so as long as I’m available they can walk in and have a conversation with me. The students will see me on the corridors, or are in the schoolyard and they will walk up and give me a hug or they start to share some information whether it’s their birthday or a relative has died, their mother got a new job…just about anything. They look forward to being rewarded for the good things that they have done and it doesn’t always have to be something that is tangible or can be bought with money. In fact a smile, a hug, a high five, they appreciate it. I love to give them new exciting and innovative experiences and show them that they are first-class, world-class students because they belong to our school.
I always say that I have the best crop of teachers in the world, not because they always agree with everything that I do but because at the end of the day once they see the vision and they understand what our mission is, then they are right there with me. A colleague shared the term ‘followership’ just recently. That is important. Persons follow because they see the wisdom in the leadership and are willing to follow. They might not always agree with the reason or the wisdom but are willing to follow based on trust and mutual respect because they see the results of what that brings. I believe that is what we have. I really appreciate my teachers and support staff members.
SAH: That’s quite a beautiful relationship with your teachers and students. Turning now to your family life, what do you enjoy most about being married and being a mom?
KLCS: I love having a companion, a friend, a sounding board who is available to me at all times. My husband is amazing. He helps to provide the adventures we need to keep us balanced and grounded. He has a song for every situation. Sometimes he calls and plays or sings me a song, then hangs up. Lol. I also love that at whatever time I am afraid or uncertain, I can call him or send him a message to pray for me. There are times when he physically comes to my office and places his hands on my head or shoulder and prays for me.
I love seeing my children happy or excited. We try to provide meaningful experiences for them, and help them to have fond memories. Impromptu trips are my favourite. I love when they try to surprise me, my daughter would say close your eyes mom, and my son tries to speak to me in a French accent! Hilarious bunch they are! They are all my real life teddy bears.
SAH: Sounds like a loving family, how is your faith lived out in your family life?
KLCS: I can say for a fact that having a family and the expenses related to that, is in itself a daily test of faith. The provisions that are made through other family members and friends can convince anyone that God is real. We constantly tell our children to practice graciousness. Give thanks for the provisions, because many times they are nothing short of a miracle. The decision we made, as to where to send our children to school, did not make sense to many persons, but we asked God to direct us. Oniel and I spoke about it. I prayed about it. Now they are close to us, and doing well in their schools right here in the inner-city.
SAH: As a high-performing principal, what strategies do you employ to manage your time so that your husband and children get quality time?
KLCS: I honestly think I am still figuring out how to manage my time so that my husband and children get quality time. What has been helping is that fact that we all work and study in the same vicinity. We capitalize on our commuting time, if there is something pressing to discuss, a new song to share (yes the children love to sing like their dad), or a new book to read. We usually attend functions together as well. We sometimes leave the children with their grandmother in St. Ann on our way to a workshop in some other parish, or may have someone from church or a close friend keep them for a few hours.When we go to visit my mother who is abroad, we always try to ensure that our time synchronizes. I know though that it helps that we basically enjoy or participate in the same activities, so that’s really how we spend some time together.
Additionally, my husband tries to have lunch with me at my desk as much as is possible. He actually comes and commands me to stop working and let’s eat! I need that sometimes, no, most times. If I don’t get that, I just keep going.
Kandi-Lee certainly has a lot on her plate, but with God’s help and the love of her doting husband, she is achieving with grace and humility. May her faith continue to keep her sincere, successful and as sweet as ‘Kandi’!