Dr. Dorothy L. W. Smith was educated in segregated schools in the Jim Crow South, where she learned from caring teachers the positive influence a teacher can have on the outcome of a child, even in the most difficult circumstances. At an early age, she set her goal on becoming a teacher in order to help students like herself to aspire. She earned three degrees while rearing her family and became an exemplary teacher, serving for 31 years at the high school, community college, and university levels. At San Diego State University, she became the first director of the Aim-to-Teach Program and greatly increased the number of African American and other students of color in San Diego State’s teacher credentialing programs. Dr. Smith’s dissertation study at the University of Southern California focused on “Teacher Characteristics for Culturally Diverse Schools.” She inspired many of her students to pursue higher degrees, and at least two dozen of her former community college students are now excelling as teachers in San Diego County.
Widely recognized for her educational leadership, advocacy, and excellence, Dr. Smith was first elected to public office in 1981 and she led the Board of Education of San Diego City Schools in developing educational policy for improving the education of students. As a two-term board member she developed groundbreaking school district measures to improve the education of all students, particularly students of color who had routinely been denied the opportunity for equal access to the highest and best courses, class sections, schools, teachers, and academic assistance. These changes included the establishment of the Core Curriculum program to upgrade courses required of all students, the Equity in Student Placement program to provide students with equal access to courses, the Gifted and Talented Assessment policy to identify gifted students of all racial and cultural groups, and an in-school academic assistance program to help students master the curriculum. She also initiated the practice of displaying test data by racial group to reveal disparities among ethnic groups and the development of annual academic profiles to discern the quality of education and the resources at each school. As the first African American woman to be elected to public office in the City of San Diego, Dr. Smith served twice as president of the Board of Education and was awarded the Distinguished School Boards Award by the United States Secretary of Education.