The Way We Were: Sylvie Smith

The Way We Were: Sylvie Smith
Sylvie Smith and her son, Brian Smith, on a cruise to celebrate her 60th birthday and his 40th.

After 37 years with Duval County Public Schools (DCPS), Sylvie Smith is retiring. She signed her retirement paperwork in mid-October and will work her last day Dec. 21.

“Your career in the school system is something to remember,” Smith said.

And this career all started because of a question and a phone call.

In 1986, Smith was working at The Florida Times-Union. She was presented with a list of phone numbers to call to get people to subscribe to the newspaper. One of those phone numbers belonged to the principal of Paxon Junior High School. He was concerned about how Smith got his private number, but the conversation quickly shifted to Smith telling him she filled out an application at the school and asked if they were hiring. The principal pulled her application and brought her in for an interview on her lunch break. She was offered a job that day.

“I only worked at the Times-Union for one day,” Smith said. “He gave me my big break.” And she never looked back.

At the time, Smith was recently divorced with a young son, Brian, and needed to provide for him.

“The money wasn’t great, but I had my parents,” Smith said. “I managed and I made my way up.”

Smith had always had a love of finance – and even a short stint as a bank teller – which started when she attended the now-renamed Riverside High School. Any time there was an opportunity for her to learn more or solicit advice from others, she took it. She educated herself and learned about the other positions in the school.

She started as a teacher’s assistant, then worked in the dean’s office before eventually helping with records and appointments in the guidance counselor’s office.

“She took me under her wing,” Smith said of the guidance counselor.

Sylvie Smith’s first school photo in 1986.
Sylvie Smith’s first school photo in 1986.
Sylvie Smith’s most recent school photo.
Sylvie Smith’s most recent school photo.

When the guidance counselor retired, she told Smith she needed to venture out and work at a different school. Smith interviewed at Venetia Elementary School and was hired on the spot to work in the front office. She has been at the school ever since, working her way up to bookkeeper and serving as the extended day director since its inception.

“I’m here every day, and I love it,” Smith said. “I’ve been humble and grateful to the people who took me under their wings.”

After 27 years, Smith said she realized it was time for newer blood to take over.

“It’s time for me to start living the second part of my life,” she said. “It’s been a good run.”

Some of her notable memories were in the role of safety patrol sponsor – one she held for 20 years. This year marked her 18th trip to Washington, D.C. with the safety patrol students.

“I tell the parents, it’s a working trip for you, and it’s a working trip for me because it’s all about kids,” she said. “I could do that trip in my sleep. I can do everything except drive the bus.”

She recently ran into one of her previous safety patrol students who is now a senior in high school, recalling that the student was the one chosen to lay the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on the trip to Washington, D.C.

“That was such a special moment that I will always remember,” Smith said.

While she will miss her colleagues and students, Smith is looking forward to her retirement.

“I’m excited about retirement,” Smith said. “I’m just excited to be alive.”

Her son, Brian, bought a house near Callahan and invited her to live there with him and his daughter, Arianna Haigler Smith.

“I’m excited about that. He’s my rock,” she said.

However, Smith – whose favorite thing to do is shop – joked that she’s not sure how her clothes and shoes are going to fit at her son’s house.

“I can’t even tell you how many shoes I have,” she said. “My stuff fills up three closets. I’m going to have to put a garment rack in the garage, because I’m not giving up my clothes.”

But one of the things she’s extremely excited about is a cruise to Alaska in 2025 – one  that her son booked to celebrate her retirement.

“My son is the best,” Smith said. “I told him, ‘I want to go to Alaska on a cruise’ and before I can even Google it, he had already planned it.”

Besides traveling, she also plans to stay home and work in the yard.

“I like working outdoors,” she said. “Until I see a snake, then I’m gone.”

She also plans to continue working as a shopper for Shipt, a delivery service. 

“I have a lot of regular customers,” Smith said. “They know me. They know I’m going to talk to them. They know I’m going to hug them and throw them a kiss.”

After a year of retirement, she can also start volunteering at the schools, which is something she’s looking forward to. While she said she is going to miss her time at the school, it seems that the school staff is going to miss her as well.

“They told me, ‘We don’t know what we’re going to do without you,’” Smith said. “And that makes me feel good.”

By Jennifer Jensen
Resident Community News

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)