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'Jack of all trades': P.J. Smith juggles multiple roles at Pine Island secondary

"He’s really gone above and beyond to do all he can for the school and for the students,” his wife Kate Smith said.

Teacher Feature - PJ Smith
Pine Island Public School's PJ Smith teaches English, humanities, manages the school's learning management system, helps with the student information system and the school's website. Smith also coaches the school's trap shooting team. Smith is photographed during an English class on Thursday, May 19, 2022, in Pine Island.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin
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PINE ISLAND — He may have entered the school district as a teacher, but over the last 20 years, P.J. Smith has had a hand in seemingly every area of Pine Island’s secondary school.

He teaches class. He started and still coaches the trap club. He advises the yearbook. He chairs the district’s staff development committee and the technology committee; he announces at wrestling matches.

And every once in a while, he takes a breath.

In other words, he’s busy. And that's the way he like it.

Principal Mitch Schiltz described Smith as a “rock star jack of all trades” that “does a little bit of everything.”

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These days, he splits his time between teaching English and being the district’s “IT guy.” As such, he runs the learning management system and takes care of the website.

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While teaching and IT management may seem like unrelated jobs, Smith sees a connection between the two.

“I think that I’m a better tech guy because I stayed in the classroom,” Smith said. “Because I know what teachers are using. I know what the teachers are trying to do and trying to accomplish.”

When he’s not in front of the classroom or behind a keyboard, he often has a shotgun in his hand — or at least is working with students who do. His trap shoot club has more than 70 students this year, competing in the biggest conference available.

It’s not just that he does a lot of different things at once. His role at the school has evolved over the years as he’s picked up new tasks and moved on from others.

He used to direct plays and the speech team. He used to run the honors program.

“It seems my job has changed every three or four years,” he said. “It just keeps it fresh. I dabble in everything, so if something comes up and it sounds fun or interesting, I go after it. It’s kind of allowed me to create my own job in a way.”

No matter what it is he’s involved with at any given moment, though, there’s a few consistent elements that keep him going. According to his wife, Kate Smith, he has an engaging personality.

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“He’s just good with people; he’s very open to everyone,” Kate Smith said. “He has done a lot in his field for the school. He’s really gone above and beyond to do all he can for the school and for the students.”

She also said he’s very organized.

One would think he'd have to be. His calendar doesn’t seem to thin out that much once the summer rolls around either. This June alone, his family is going on a trip to Costa Rica, he’s making a trek to the boundary waters, and he has the state trap shoot in Alexandria.

He said that in spite of how much he’s involved with technology at work, he puts it away once he leaves at the end of the day.

From there, of often heads to the great outdoors. He hunts. He fishes. He woodworks. He makes his own maple syrup. He reads. He makes his own cedar strip canoes.

"I like to stay busy," he said.

In spite of that sometimes rotating Rolodex of responsibilities, he’s always had a very strong sense of his core role.

“I think I was born to teach to be honest,” he said. “I just love it.”

Related Topics: EDUCATIONPINE ISLANDPEOPLE
Jordan Shearer covers K-12 education for the Post Bulletin. A Rochester native, he graduated from Bemidji State University in 2013 before heading out to write for a small newsroom in the boonies of western Nebraska. Bringing things full circle, he returned to Rochester in 2020 just shy of a decade after leaving. Readers can reach Jordan at 507-285-7710 or jshearer@postbulletin.com.
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