checked into the office at Conder
Elementary Arts Integrated
Magnet School on Columbia’s near east
side, announcing to the receptionist
that teacher Tara Smith, a CIU alumna,
was expecting me. Her eyes brighten as
she picked up the phone and dialed the
second grade classroom: “Dr. Smith, Mr.
Holmes to see you.”
“Wow, calling her doctor already?” I said
to the receptionist.
“We’re pretty proud of that,” she replied.
Less than two weeks had passed since
Smith became the first African-American
to earn a Doctor of Education degree at
CIU, an achievement not lost on those at
Conder, including her class of 19 second
grade boys. They were also already
calling their teacher, “Dr. Smith.”
“At first they thought I was going to do
surgery,” Smith laughed as we chatted
in her classroom during a break. “They
started calling me (Dr. Smith). They said,
‘Well, that’s your name now.’ That made
me feel good,” Smith said.
Smith, a Columbia native, also feels
good about teaching at a school such as
Conder, featuring the integration of the
arts and single-gender education. But
she also has a heart for the urban school.
She says over 80 percent of the Conder
students are eligible for free/reduced
lunch and only two of the children in her
class come from a two-parent home.
“This is a high-poverty school,” Smith
said. “But that’s what drew me here.
That’s where my heart is.”
Sitting in on her class of rambunctious
boys, it quickly becomes apparent that
she loves her job. And the boys are
excited to learn. On this day, science
class was about animal species, their
habitats and life cycles. Sitting on the
floor in front of a white board, the
students shout out the list of species.
“Fish,” is the answer one student gives.
By Bob Holmes
CIU’s First African-American Ed.D.
Graduate Shares Her Dream