Educator with ‘special way of teaching’ succumbs to heart attack

Written by Dick Mason June 27, 2012 02:02 pm

Carole Smutz thought nothing of helping students pay fees for things like their GED test, which can cost close to $150, and making other sacrifices to help them succeed.

By Dick Mason

The Observer

La Grande High School  has lost  a teacher who had a gift  for helping misdirected students find their way, an educator who transformed her classroom into a springboard for students facing daunting hurdles.

Carole Smutz, 62, a teacher for the LHS alternative education program, died Friday at St. Luke’s Hospital in Boise after suffering a heart attack.

Smutz, worked in the La Grande School District  four years, three at LHS and one at LMS. She earlier worked 12 years for the old Union-Baker Education Service District.

“She had an ability to work and connect with students like nobody I have ever seen,’’ said LHS Principal Andrea Waldrop.

At LHS, Smutz worked in its GED Options program, helping students prepare for GED tests. The GED is a high school equivalency certificate.  

Smutz often found herself working with students who struggled with school but later flourished. One reason for her success was an unwavering confidence in the potential of her students.

“She believed that all students could accomplish anything they wanted to accomplish,’’ Waldrop said. 

Smutz, who grew up in Norwood, Ohio, thought nothing of helping students pay fees for things like their GED test, which can cost close to $150, and making other sacrifices to help them succeed.

“She would give her last dime, even if she needed it,’’ Waldrop said. “She would always find a way to make it happen for them.’’

Patty O’Reilly, a secretary at LHS, marveled at the links Smutz was able to establish with her students. 

“She just had a special way of teaching the students she worked with. She connected with them on an individual level,’’ O’Reilly said.

La Grande School District Superintendent Larry Glaze said Smutz had a big heart for kids, “especially those who were struggling.’’

The depth of her compassion was clearly evident at the school district’s annual GED graduation ceremony.

“You could really tell how much she loved the kids by the way she spoke to them (at the ceremony),’’ Glaze said.

Smutz died less than a week after one of the most thrilling experiences of her life. On June 17 she and her husband of 43 years, Irwin, watched their son Nathan speak as the President’s Scholar at EOU’s graduation ceremony. 

A service for Carole Smutz will start at 2 p.m. Friday at First Christian Church in La Grande.