A veteran teacher with expertise in how teens think is the new Northeastern Middle School principal.

Clayton Smith is currently the Northeastern High School assistant principal. He is transitioning to middle school after his approval by the school board on Jan. 24.

“Clayton comes to us with a great deal of experience. He has had a very successful journey through our community,” said Matthew Hicks, superintendent. “He is a deep thinker.”

Clayton Smith

Smith brought a 16-year teaching background to NHS and is in his third year as assistant principal. Before teaching, he worked as a case manager for a mental health agency.

He is a trainer in a process called “Understanding the Teen Brain” and believes that approaches taught there help him and other faculty members deal with the challenges presented by students. The seminar teaches that how young people respond to life experiences can be much different from how adults respond.

“We don’t know what we may not be seeing in a child,” Smith said. “We don’t know how adverse experiences might impact their brain. The kid may have just come in from a car or home where he was belittled. … I know that typically when a kid is yelling at me, they are not mad at me.”

Understanding that helps school staff better deal with classroom outbursts and other behaviors. It doesn’t mean the student won’t get in trouble over the behavior but the intervention from staff will help mitigate the behavior. It also means that the school needs to help meet needs such as hunger or being at risk from injury “so teachers can teach what they are trained to teach.”

He also said that his first challenge as principal will be increasing student attendance. Like many other school districts, Northeastern has experienced higher chronic absentee rates since the COVID pandemic.

Smith is a Centerville High School graduate whose parents both taught for many years. His Bachelor of Arts degree is from Purdue University and he has a Master of Arts in teaching from Earlham College. He earned his educational leadership license from Ball State University.

He and his wife, Michelle, have four children: Preston, Madelyn, Gabby and Brody.

“I’m super excited to be part of the middle school. I’m incredibly honored,” he said.

Hicks said he feels fortunate that Northeastern Wayne School Corp. is able to promote from within, making for a smoother transition. The district is advertising for Smith’s replacement both locally and regionally.

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A version of this article appeared in the February 7 2024 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

Bob Hansen is a reporter for the Western Wayne News.