Former Tennessee Commissioner of Education Charles E. Smith Enlightens with Stories from His Personal Odyssey in “Journal of a Fast Track Life”


“Dr. Charles Smith has opened his remarkable storehouse of memories and revealed a treasury of experiences which will be a blessing to all those who read them.”- Winfield Dunn, Tennessee Governor 1971-75

Nashville, TN — Charles Smith’s grew up in small town—not a silver spoon in sight—as an average-at-best student whose first job was editor of the hometown newspaper he delivered as an eight year old.

Forty-two years later Smith was living in Washington D.C., serving in George W. Bush’s administration as executive director of the Nation’s Report Card (NAEP), an inside player of arguably the most impactful federal initiative to improve education in modern times.

“Journal of a Fast Track Life and Lessons Learned Along the Way” contextualizes Smith’s life story with lessons learned from a half century spent in top leadership roles across three professions. He explores the jobs, appointed positions, experiences and litany of governors, presidents, CEOs and other leaders that shaped his life and provides the reader with an introspective view of crucial crossroad moments, and the processes which have guided his decision making over the years.

In more than five decades of professional life, Charles E. Smith has held primary leadership roles in education, journalism, and state/federal government. During his years in Tennessee, he served as chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents for six years and as the Tennessee Commissioner of Education for seven years. He also served as chancellor of two University of Tennessee campuses, as vice president over two separate divisions of UT’s statewide university administration, and as editor of both weekly and daily newspapers in Tennessee.



About the Book
“Journal of a Fast Track Life: And Lessons Learned Along the Way”
Charles E. Smith | September 6, 2018 | Charbar Press
Hardcover | $29.95 | ISBN 9781732123403
Softcover | $14.95 | ISBN 9781732123410
E-Book | $9.99 | ISBN 9781732123427
Biography/Memoir, Leadership, Management ​






In an interview Charles can discuss:
* The guidance provided to him by mentors throughout his decorated and prolific career in education, journalism, and federal and state government
* How he bridged the partisan divide in serving as a University Chancellor under a Republican Governor and Commissioner of Education under a Democratic Governor
* His time as executive director of the Nation’s Report Card in the George W. Bush administration
* How the state of education has evolved in the U.S.
* The balance between power and integrity, trust, and open communication in politics and in other leadership positions



charlessmithAn Interview with Charles Smith

What inspired you to write this book?
In the latter stages of my career, particularly during my years in Washington, D.C., I began to realize that I had accumulated an exceptional number of career mileposts, far beyond any expectations for a small town guy. Trying to decipher how and why I had been able to achieve a storybook life became a passion. In time, I concluded that the keys to my successes were the lessons learned and applied from a series of outstanding and strong boss/mentors and a fascinating string of career experiences. Perhaps my boss at the Nation’s Report Card in Washington captured it best when he noted in his endorsement of my book that he had been impressed by my credentials and professional experience but had “no idea of the depth and richness of his (Smith’s) journey to the top of three professions” before reading my draft manuscript. Thus, a book was born.

The book is broken into bite sized pieces of your life, how did you decide to write it in this format?
Early on, I had to make a judgment as to how best to tell my story. I concluded in the early stages that a traditional, chronological autobiography tracing my journey and the destination would not be compelling. My career experiences taken individually were not necessarily unique, but collectively they produced a substantive package of successes against all odds. That conclusion then led me to focus on how and why it all came to be. Bottom line, I decided that the lessons learned and applied over a half century paved the way for my success along the way. Thus, the book is divided into 32 chapters of lessons learned, with specific examples, relevant anecdotes, and ultimate outcomes.

What would you consider some of your proudest moments working in education?
Clearly, leading Governor McWherter’s landmark education improvement initiative in the early 90s is at the top of my list. A close second would be integrating The Nation’s Report Card into President Bush’s No Child Left Behind initiative and taking the reporting of results from the backrooms of education researchers to the main street of public policy making at the local, state, and national levels. While these two “proudest moments” top the list, many individual-focused initiatives rank high.

Who were some of your biggest teachers and influences during your career?
My best classroom teacher was Dr. Ida Long Rogers, a professor at Vanderbilt/Peabody in Nashville. She was much more than a knowledgeable instructor; she inspired, challenged, and congratulated. As a graduate student working full time and a parent of two small children, I benefited greatly from her willingness to work with me on weekends and at night. Then, as I made the move up the ladder as a university chancellor, newspaper editor, and state commissioner of education, she took the time to have lunch with me periodically to critique my efforts, to offer substantive advice, and to encourage me. Outside the classroom, I had the good fortune to work for a series of strong and effective bosses, who like Dr. Rogers, apparently saw my potential and challenged me to be the best that I could be. I devote a chapter in my book to the value of bosses who inspire by word and deed.

Of all your various leadership roles, which one did you enjoy most, which one was the most challenging, which one was the most rewarding, and why?
On reflection, both the most enjoyable and most challenging role was state commissioner of education. It forced me to reach back into all the lessons learned as a newspaper editor, university chancellor, and press secretary to a candidate for governor and apply that experience to a new set of leadership requirements. I had not had any previous experience in k-12 education. I had to learn quickly the language of the profession, the nuances of working with the scores of special interest groups that populate the k-12 landscape statewide, and the multiple issues confronting the public school system. The complexity of the k-12 world far exceeds anything I ever experienced in higher education and the media. I have witnessed many commissioners who tried and failed simply because they lacked the substantive “boot camp” experience of leadership in big tents preparatory to assuming top level roles.

If someone were to only take one lesson away from this book, which one should it be?
The central lesson learned from a half century in high profile leadership roles is that success stories in politically charged environments are dependent on mutual trust, respect, and open communications. Multiple chapters in my book make and document that point. While my book steers clear of politics per se, solutions for the current broken political system at the national level and in most states, including my home state of Tennessee, are embedded in the chapters of lessons learned. Bottom line, the key is mutual trust, respect, and open communications. I honestly believe that our nation’s political leadership could benefit greatly from the lessons presented in my book.
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