Interview with Mrs. Mansfield-Smith, Principal of Magnet High School
On November 1, the Union County Vocational-Technical Schools Board of Education announced that Magnet High School had found their new principal. The undoubtedly well-earned position went to Mrs. Mansfield-Smith, Magnet’s former teaching supervisor. While many students may know Mrs. Mansfield-Smith for her involvement in Magnet’s clubs, such as the Math League, her influence on both the Magnet community as well as the UCVTS district extends past that of a typical staff member.
Mrs. Mansfield-Smith, one of Magnet High School’s original staff members and the school’s first teacher of the year, can recount many a Magnet history since the school opened it doors in 1997. While talking to Mrs. Mansfield-Smith, I learned that Magnet High School did not initially have a principal. In place of the traditional role of principal, Magnet had a “Director of Curriculum.”
Perhaps more interesting to the current student body, Graduation used to be held outside “on the hill.” Current students begin their journey at the Union County Vocational-Technical Schools as eighth grade visitors in the AIT gym during information sessions only to end it in the same place four years later donning a cap and gown. In past years, however, Magnet seniors said their final goodbyes where The Academy for Performing Arts (APA) stands today.
I know you discussed this at the assembly we had a couple of weeks ago, but how did you get your start at Magnet?
“I was working part-time in the summer of 1996 at the Union County Vocational-Technical Schools for the adult high school program when I heard about this new and innovative full-time Magnet school that Dr. Thomas Bistocchi, the superintendent, was trying to create for the county. I met with him, and he explained his vision for this new school, which was eventually to be the Union County Magnet High School for Science, Mathematics, and Technology.”
How did you figure out that you wanted to be a teacher?
“I really loved school all my life. I loved learning, especially in the math, science, and computer technology areas. Even in high school, I felt I wanted to help the future generation continue to learn, and they needed smart, knowledgeable, and caring teachers to do that. I felt that I could be one of those teachers.
I graduated college with a double major in math and computer science, along with taking education courses to be a secondary (grades 7-12) math teacher. It took me only 1 extra semester for student teaching after I got my Bachelor of Science degree to get my certifications. After student teaching, I knew that I still wanted to be a teacher and immediately started teaching math and computer science to students in grades 7-12.”
If you could teach at any other school on campus which would it be?
“I actually already have! I taught Math Analysis at APA for three years when I was still a Teaching Supervisor at Magnet High School. I also had district classes of Math Analysis and Probability & Statistics while at Magnet, with students from all the schools. I found it rewarding teaching all types of students and learning about them and their schools.”
You mentioned that you would have gone to a school like Magnet if had existed while you were in high school. What do you think the biggest advantage of going to this school is, for both students who want to be engineers and those who hope to pursue other career paths?
“Students that come here are motivated to learn and want to learn as much as they can, in a challenging manner. That, in itself, is a big advantage compared to typical comprehensive high schools. It is cool to be a nerd here, and nobody will make fun of you because they are nerds, too! Students are very accepting of each other and the uniqueness of each individual.
Our teachers are some of the most dedicated, hard-working, and knowledgeable teachers that I have ever worked with in my career. That is a big advantage, too.
Students that want to be engineers or have careers in the STEM fields are thoroughly prepared through our challenging math and science curriculum, as well our engineering coursework presented through our technology courses. Teachers not only teach some of the skills to be engineers, but how to problem solve and think critically, which will help you in any career.”
What’s your favorite Magnet memory?
“I have had so many fond memories since I have been here for over 22 years. It would be hard to pick one, because there are so many, and since I am getting older, it is getting harder and harder to remember them all!
My most recent favorite memory would be singing the Monster Mash at the Halloween Creativity Corner last month with the Magnet band, which I did with about 2 minutes notice and no practice! I feel that sometimes you just have to push yourself to try something out of your comfort zone, even if it doesn’t turn out perfectly. That is the message that I wanted to send to the students.”
Another one of Mrs. Mansfield’s favorite memories serves as the grandfather to monthly Creativity Corners at Magnet. One year, a student wrote a jazzy parody of the Christmas classic “Jingle Bell Rock.” The parody, titled “Precalculus Rocks,” was performed in front of the whole school in the Magnet Auditorium as a part of AHA (now MAHA) day festivities. If this could be seen as the grandfather of Creativity Corner, its successor-- a district wide performance of the song in the AIT gym-- can only be seen as the father of the Magnet institution students today know and love.
What’s your advice to Magnet students on getting through high school?
“My general advice would be to just always do your best, work with integrity, and to challenge yourself academically, while maintaining a balance of work and “play.” That “play”-- which could be a hobby, belonging to a club, or volunteering-- may spark that passion that will ultimately help you with your future career choices. My other piece of advice is to not to stress the small stuff. Have some fun and take a chance to try something new while you are at Magnet High School.