Bret Smith, Executive Director of Operations for Ponca City Public Schools, will retire after 34 years with the school district. His last day will be Monday, Nov. 1.
Smith grew up in Pawhuska and attended college in Illinois. He spent three years as an educator for an Illinois school district before moving back to Pawhuska. “Ponca City was the first place I put my application in,” said Smith. “They didn’t have a teaching position open for me at the time.”
Smith said he met with then superintendent Dr. Larry Robinson, who was a student of his uncle. “I just wanted to say hi and met with him in the office I currently have now,” said Smith. “He asked what I was doing here and I told him I applied for a teaching position but they didn’t have anything open. I told him about my background in construction and asked if they had anything in the maintenance department and he hired me on the spot.”
Smith said he was driving back and forth from Pawhuska at the time and made that drive for a year. “I absolutely loved coming to work every single day,” he said. “My very first day on the job in Ponca City I was with the district’s welder and he was driving the food truck and I was going to help him deliver food. The food truck driver at the time had a medical issue so we were driving the truck. I didn’t know anything about Ponca City at the time. We were driving down all of these roads and into neighborhoods to all of these elementary schools delivering food. When we got back they told me they needed the welder the next day and they asked if I could deliver the food. I told them I didn’t have a clue where I was or where I went. That was the last day I was ever asked to be on the food truck delivery route.”
“From that time on, I worked with Randy Logan, the district’s electrician. “At that time the whole district was heated by steam. We worked on steam boilers and on everything electronic. We were in every nook and cranny throughout the entire district,” said Smith. “That’s really my claim to fame in being the director of operations. I went to every building and knew the school district inside and out.”
Smith said his knowledge of the district just expanded. “I went from being Randy’s assistant to the district’s carpenter. My dad was a carpenter by trade and we built houses from the ground up. I knew everything about plumbing and electrical and concrete.”
Smith said the district needed someone out in the field so the district created a position for him as the maintenance foreman so I could be out in the field and supervise the guys. “My brother Tony came to the district at that time and became the district’s carpenter. He had the same skills I had,” said Smith. “There was always a question as to whether two brothers could work together very well. I said we could and we definitely have.”
Smith said he was then asked to become the risk manager for the district around 1995. The maintenance director retired and they decided to go ahead and give him that position.
Smith said he has so many great memories from his time with the district. “I have way more happy memories than any bad ones,” said Smith. “The past couple of years have been challenging for obvious reasons but I’ve really enjoyed my time here. Honestly, it’s just the people here. When you’re in a personnel position you learn everyone’s name. I have loved everyone that I’ve worked with.”
Smith said before turf was added at the football field, he and his brother decided they’d try to paint a Wildcat on the football field. “I drew the Wildcat head on this thing that was made up of eight sheets of masonite. I drew the head, we cut it out and used it as a stencil and put it in the middle of the football field and then painted it. I drew in the details with a spray can and we did that before every home game. We were one of the few school districts in the state that did that. We had a blast doing that.”
Smith went to Jr. College at Labette, earned his Master’s Degree at the University of Texas at Arlington, then obtained his Superintendent’s Certification after that. “I feel pretty rounded educationally with degrees in so many different States, OK, KS, IL, and TX.”
Smith said he’s not quite old enough to “retire” and will still seek work, just not in education. “I’m still going to work but I’m not going to work full-time. I’ve got a friend in Oklahoma City that wants me to help him manage some properties a few days a week. I will probably work with our current architect as a consultant on a few of our upcoming bond projects as well.”
Adam Leaming will replace Smith when he retires. Smith said he really only had one piece of advice for Leaming when he assumes duties. “I told him the answer you get is dictated by the question you ask so if you want to know the answer you need to ask the right question.”
Superintendent Shelley Arrott said, “Without a shadow of a doubt, Bret Smith knows every little nook, cranny, tunnel or detail of our property and can tell anyone the history of our facilities. During his 34 years with PCPS, he has served in some capacity of operations, so he has definitely learned from the school of experience!”
“It has been a privilege and an honor to work with Bret in various roles throughout the years, and I have learned so much about our district’s facilities from him. He has given 34 years of his life to serve the students, staff and patrons of PCPS selflessly. With his retirement, so much knowledge of our facilities will walk out that door, but he knows we will not hesitate to call if we have questions, and we know he will always be there for PCPS. It is impossible to devote 34 years of service to an organization that you care so much about without continuing to support the enhancement of the education and school experience for our students,” said Arrott. “Bret Smith is a true team player, a loyal employee and a consummate gentleman. When you work closely with others, you develop a work family. In education, we often spend more time with our work family than our own family, and it is always bittersweet when you lose a member of your work family to retirement. However, we wish Bret the best of luck in his well-deserved retirement, but we will certainly miss him!”