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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.

Her Heart

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



CIU Today

Fall 2015