With school back in session, we will be highlighting exceptional people within the Barbourville Independent Schools and Knox County Public Schools systems each month. To begin the series, we will focus on a local educator who has dedicated her entire life to the education of the youth in Knox County and those across the world.
From an early age, Knox County native Cathy Sue Smith knew she had a calling in life to serve other people. What began as mission work quickly led to a hunger for traveling and adventure.
“My first international traveling experience to Israel with the Kentucky Baptist Student Union at Cumberland College started it all for me,” said Smith. “After I was exposed to travel, the world, cultures…it just became part of me, and it still is. Travel is life, adventure is everything!”
Over the years, Smith has lived and worked in Israel, Philippines, Australia, Mexico and China. In each location, she taught everything from preschool to high school in various schools. Smith was in China the longest, for nine years. While there, she started a new adventure that was calling to her heart.
“I first learned about China’s one child policy back in high school…in the 80s. I knew way back then that I wanted to adopt from China,” said Smith who was living in Shanghai and teaching at Concordia International School Shanghai when she officially began the long adoption process.
Once Smith made her way through the mountain of paperwork, she requested to adopt a baby girl as young as possible from the China Center for Adoption Affairs in Beijing.
“[I] was matched with Zhang Ting Yu, now Janna Mei Ting Yu, who was adopted at 7 months old. She is now fourteen and in ninth grade at BHS. I started the process again in 2004, and was matched with my He Yin Ling when she was ten months old. She is now thirteen and an eighth grader at BMS. Both are amazing…smart, beautiful and full of life. They give me great joy and pride. If their birth parents could see them now, they would be just as proud,” said Smith.
Smith stayed in China with her new, extended family until 2010 when the next adventure called her name. In June of that year, Smith returned to Knox County, creating a new home for her and her daughters.
Smith taught special education at Knox Central High School from 2010 to 2012. She then took grant jobs with Berea College, working with students across the Promise Zone.
“My work…had me traveling in my little car all over the seven counties, working with opportunity or at-risk youth. I worked at several schools in the Promise Zone, including the Knox County Learning Academy and Day Treatment,” said Smith. “I enjoyed that work, providing mentoring, certifications and local connections to students and their families.”
While the work Smith was doing was fulfilling, it also frequently took her away from her daughters. As of August 1, 2017, Smith started a new role with Berea College as a Promise School Coordinator at Barbourville Independent, where her daughters are currently enrolled. In her new position, Smith coordinates and integrates programming with BIS.
“I am happy to be in one school, and look forward to the school year working with the outstanding students at BIS,” continued Smith. “At this point in my life and career, I am ever so happy to be going to school daily at BIS with my daughters, something we have not done since our Shanghai days!”
While it might be too soon to start thinking about her next career move, Smith’s future plans include staying in education, supporting adoption and connecting with international students. At the end of the day, it’s always the people that make all endeavors in her life exciting and worthwhile.
“By far, my favorite part of being an educator and involved in education in Knox County has been the people. From students to colleagues/administrators to parents and community members, I have been blessed by the people in this county. We love our kids, our families and our community,” said Smith. “I certainly hope and pray I have made a positive influence on the students I have worked with, too.”