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Dr. Otis L. Smallwood ~ “I Am Bertie Black History”

Updated: Feb 16, 2022

~Dr. Otis L. Smallwood ~ Superintendent, Bertie County Schools Dr. Otis Smallwood, a former student of Bertie County Schools, could have chosen to share his leadership talents, being at the helm, with any other school district. Yet, he opted to return to his foundational roots, to impact and nurture the lives of students and families in his hometown. He is, no doubt, “Building A Better Bertie” for the communities that are near and dear to his heart. He is Bertie Black History, and we are so proud!

TCV1:  What community/street did you grow up in as a Bertie County youngster?

OS1: I grew up in the heart of the Indian Woods community on Indian Woods Road (Windsor).

TCV2:  What’s your very first thought/memory of life in Bertie?

OS2:  My memories of Bertie are reflective of the sense of community (and of course church – Indian Woods Missionary Baptist Church). Most of the families were meager income earners but we managed to make it on family, fellowship, and of course, believing in Christ.

TCV3:  What age did you develop a love for Education?

OS3:  Well, I am not sure exactly what age, but it was in elementary school. I can remember coming home from school every day telling my momma that, “I was not a dummy today!” LOL. It was in high school that Math and Science became my favorite subjects, so it was then that I knew I was going to be an educator.

TCV4:  Who were the most influential people who formed who you are—As a person? As an educator?

OS4:  As a person: My mom, paternal grandmother, and my siblings. They are sooooo much older than I am (lol). My father passed away when I was only 7 years old, so everyone else had to step in and do their part. So, they all were influencers in my life. As an educator: Many educators shaped who I have become today. I would love to name all of them because I can still remember them, but most notably, I would have to say Mrs. Connie Richardson – my 1st grade teacher (still supports me and checks on me regularly), her husband, Mr. Johnnie Richardson (my elementary Assistant Principal – and he still checks on me too); Mr. Euric Perry – my elementary Principal; Mr. Norman Cherry, elementary math & science teacher; Ms. Jackie Turner, 2nd grade teacher; Ms. Elaine Ennett, and Ms. Sarah Williams, both elementary language arts and social studies teachers; Ms. Linda Jenkins, my high school Geometry and Algebra 2 teacher; Ms. Camille Holmes Rascoe, high school Business and keyboarding teacher; Mr. Thomas Ruffin, retired Assistant Superintendent (my mentor and I even call him POPS); Ms. Ethel Godard, retired Assistant Superintendent (she hired me for my first job at Bertie High); Mr. William W. Peele, Jr., Assistant Superintendent (deceased); and of course, Mr. John F. Smith, Sr., the first African American Superintendent of Bertie County Schools, and my fraternity brother.  

TCV5:  What is your most memorable high school experience? How did it shape you?

OS5:  My most memorable high school experience was not such a good one, but it did influence me as to what I did not want to do when I became an educator. During my senior year in Pre-Cal class, I asked the teacher to explain a concept again. It was a group of guys goofing off in class (they really should not have been in the class and they were waiting to drop the class).  She thought I was one of those guys, so when I asked my question, her response was, “If you didn’t understand the content, you should have not signed up for the course!” Now, I was good and hot, and I fired back (verbally) on her. One of my classmates, Valencia Thomas, put her hand over my mouth and drug me out of class so I would not get suspended. Well, the teacher, obviously frustrated, did come back, but apologized later. The ironic thing about it is, I ended up teaching her daughter a few years later in middle school. Her daughter said that I was her favorite teacher…lol

TCV6:  What college(s) did you attend? Why those choices?

OS6Elizabeth City State University – Viking Pride- for undergrad. I attended because my momma made me. It was free for me, so she said, I think that is where you’re going. East Carolina University– for Masters – It was local, plus they have an excellent Education and school leaders’ program. Nova Southeastern University – Doctorate – This was not my first choice, but I had postponed working on my doctorate for too long. One of my mentors, Dr. Shirley Turnage, attended this university, as well as some other superintendents. I did not want to wait for another cohort for ECU or UNCW, so I joined a cohort for Nova.  Actually, I’m glad that I did, because they provide so much support to ensure that you finish the program. There are so many people who take the classes but never finish the dissertation. Nova was committed to you finishing on a strict timeline and that is what I needed.

TCV7:  What is one thing that college (undergrad) taught you about life?

OS7:  Undergrad taught me that it was wayyyyy more to life than what I experienced in Bertie County. Although just a few counties over, ECSU had students and staff from all over the world, so I knew life experiences and opportunities were much bigger than what I experienced in Windsor and Indian Woods. I mean, even my worship experience was different.

TCV8:  What is one thing that the graduate experience(s) taught you about life?

OS8: Graduate experiences taught me that successes in life, a lot of time, come with perseverance.

TCV9:  What are three of your most proud professional accomplishments?

OS9:  Proud professional accomplishments: influencing the lives of young people, my education, and the relationships I have formed with colleagues statewide.

TCV10:  What is one word that sums up your professional journey, thus far?

OS10:  Grace

TCV11:  What are three of your greatest personal accomplishments?

OS11:  Staying out of prison – sounds fatuous, but a lot of black men end up there–Relationships I have managed to form with people–Obtaining a terminal degree. I think the percentage of black men who have earned a doctorate is less than 10%.

TCV12:   What advice would you give young boys/girls that would motivate and inspire them to accomplish their goals?

OS12:  Don’t yield to negative peer pressure and try not to be influenced by your current situation, if it is not a positive one. The world is bigger and probably better (in many instances) than what you see. If you yield to the negative influences, it controls you. If something controls you, it means that you worship it. God is very clear about who and what you need to be worshipping and it is definitely HIM!

TCV13:  Your favorite quote?

OS13If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important (Galatians 6:3) LOL – God Keeps it REAL.

TCV14:  Today, I am grateful for­­­­________. (One word)

OS14:  Today, I am grateful for LIFE (And we know who Life is)!

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