Once a Bulldog, always a Bulldog

Dr. Smith reminisces on Freedom experience


Dr. Ryan Smith is a hometown kid. From going to Conway Elementary to attending Freedom Area High School to eventually coming back as the middle school principal, he has Bulldog pride coursing through his blood. Even though he is now leaving to become the Director of Instruction at Franklin Regional School District, Smith will always remember his roots.

The journey of the seven-year principal began at Freedom. In high school, Smith lived right near the softball field, so it was only a short walk to the school. However, he always had his friends pick him up to save a trip. He quickly found a love for mathematics, while participating in extracurriculars like soccer, basketball and track and field, at which he excelled. After graduating, Smith went to the University of Pittsburgh for mathematics and to join the track and field team. He attended a fifth year in education to get his teaching certification.

Smith found success quickly after college, as he did his student teaching at Moon Area and obtained a job at City Charter High School. After two and a half years of teaching there, he received a call he wouldn’t forget. 

“I received a call from [then-middle school principal] Mr. [Robert] Gallagher. He said, ‘Hey, we have an opening…’ and I interviewed for the position and was hired as an 8th grade math teacher in 2007,” Smith said.

After five years of teaching math, Smith quickly transitioned from job to job in the Freedom Area School District. He served as Lead Teacher and Dean of Students at the middle school before becoming the assistant principal at the high school under Mr. William Deal. Finally, the middle school principal position opened, and Smith got the job in 2016. Now, he is saying goodbye to the place and people he loves.

“I never thought I would leave. This place is extremely special to me,” Smith said.

Smith expressed that for him to leave Freedom, it had to be the “absolute perfect situation.” The decision to do so was because of family. It takes him 65 minutes to commute to work every morning. Living closer to Franklin Regional, he has a shorter commute and more time to spend with his loved ones. Yet, this still didn’t make the choice to leave Freedom an easy one.

“[Freedom] gave me the opportunity to become kind of an educational leader, and I’ve met some phenomenal people. I’ve made friendships that I can’t even imagine that I would ever make,” Smith said.

As with any job, Smith’s tenure as middle school principal was full of highs and lows. He implemented the successful PAWS program, a Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) approach. However, he did face struggling test scores from students as well. Smith is happy with the progress students have currently made but looks back on what he could have done differently.

“Our students are growing. We are at a really good spot right now because we have the resources and funding with these additional staff and behavioral, math, and English interventionists,” Smith said. “I wish we could have been creative and found ways to bring those types of resources earlier on in my career.”

Overall, Smith hopes he left a lasting, positive legacy on the school district. He will truly never forget the bonds he created with his fellow staff and the opportunities he has received. From a hometown boy, Smith had one final piece of advice for students at Freedom. 

“Take advantage of the opportunity to come back. Share your experiences so that the students beneath you get the same value, the same experience, that you had when they are in school,” Smith said.