By Rich Pollack
Before he launched his career as a senior administrator at independent schools in Maryland, Gray Smith was an English teacher and lacrosse coach who would come to South Florida on spring break to visit with family.
Occasionally, Smith would visit Gulf Stream School — where cousins were students — and lead a lacrosse clinic.
“Everyone was so warm and friendly, and the setting is pristine,” he said. “I remember thinking, ‘If I ever become a head of school, this would be a great place to be.’”
In late October, Gulf Stream School’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously to name Smith — now Dr. Gray Smith — as its newest head of school. He will take the reins in July from Joe Zaluski, who is retiring after 14 years of leading the faculty and staff.
Smith says his time visiting in the 1990s and his three years as an English teacher and football and lacrosse coach at Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale gave him an opportunity to learn about the Gulf Stream School and what makes it special.
“I’m incredibly excited to come back and be the head of school,” he said.
Smith said he saw a posting for the opening for a head of school at Gulf Stream and jumped at the chance to be considered.
“It was such a great opportunity, it couldn’t be ignored,” he said.
During the nine-month national search, led by a committee working with educational consultant Heads Up and search firm Triangle Associates, the group of applicants was whittled down to six finalists.
“All six of them were fabulous,” said parent Tandy Robinson, who led the search committee along with co-chair Penny Kosinski. “We would have been lucky to have any one of them lead the school.”
In the end, however, after three of the six visited the school to meet with faculty, parents and students, Smith was the board’s unanimous choice.
“After close examination of each of the candidates, it became clear that Dr. Smith with his significant previous experience ... is the right person to guide Gulf Stream School into its next exciting era of growth,” board of trustees President Devon Coughlan wrote in a letter to parents and others in the Gulf Stream School community.
“Dr. Smith has the wisdom, experience and leadership skills necessary to preserve our heritage, nurture our first-class team of faculty and staff and fulfill our mission of empowering students to succeed by inspiring intellectual curiosity and celebrating both efforts and accomplishment.”
Prior to accepting the position at Gulf Stream School, Smith, 46, served four years as the head of school at the Harford Day School in Bel Air, Md. He previously served as head of the middle school at Severn School in the Baltimore area and before that served as assistant head of the upper school and dean of students at The Boys’ Latin School of Maryland.
He also held teaching and coaching positions in Kentucky and at Pine Crest, where he was a teacher and assistant lacrosse coach in 2002 when the team won the state championship. He later served as head coach in 2003.
Smith hopes to follow Zaluski’s tradition of teaching a class on a regular basis. While he won’t coach lacrosse, he said he might take to the field to host an occasional clinic.
He and his wife, Sarah, have two sons, James, 8, and Ward, 5, who will both attend the school.
Smith said that during his visit to the school earlier this year, he was once again impressed by the staff and faculty and by the school community as a whole.
“It’s evident that the school has benefited from excellent stewardship,” he said. “The teachers are among the best I’ve ever met and it’s clear that everyone is aimed at doing what’s best for the kids. What else could a head of school ask for?”