Despite regrets, Kyrene CFO says she’s leaving school district well positioned to weather challenges

Karin Smith: Whirlwind schedule — Wrangler News photo by Mark Crudup

It was nearly midnight and a text message flashed across the face of my cell phone. Could we move our 9 a.m. meeting to 8:30? No problem, I texted back. This was a typical exchange among people who seem to remain on the go, no matter what day, what time.

For the 10 or so years I’ve known and worked with her, Karin Smith never let the clock or the calendar get in the way of doing her job for the Kyrene School District, whether it was in her early days as an innovator of the after-school Kids Club, a subsequent assignment as the district’s chief grant writer (she raised more than $12 million during that stint), its community- and media-relations manager or, for the past three years, its director of finance and business services.

The Kyrene period of Smith’s multi-faceted career ends June 30 when she leaves the district to become a managing consultant for one of the nation’s top government, non-profit and educational-system accountancy firms.

The opportunity, Smith says, no matter how exciting, carries with it some regrets, as well.

“Kyrene is one of the best districts in the state, and I’ll miss it dearly,” she says, praising collectively its administration, its staff and, not to be overlooked, the support of its community. 

“It’s been an incredible place to work, and I know I’ll be leaving it with a solid financial structure and talented people to carry on.”

Born in Chicago as one of eight children, Smith came to Arizona when her father was transferred to Phoenix in the early 1990s. She graduated from Thunderbird High School in 1997 and, four years later, from the University of Arizona. Not convinced, however, that a bachelor’s degree would provide her with enough of the right stuff for an anticipated lifetime of career ventures, Smith systematically pursued three more virtually back-to-back degrees at ASU: a master’s in public administration, another in education leadership and, in 2008, yet a third, the coveted MBA.

Now, says Smith, with a solid educational foundation and the wide scope of her Kyrene experiences, her new job seems all the more intriguing.

That coming assignment, with Phoenix-based Heinfeld, Meech & Co. PC, is designed to provide leadership and support to the 25-year-old firm’s 70-member consulting staff, both throughout Arizona and in a newly opened office in New Mexico.

And while the challenges clearly won’t be providing Smith with more leisure hours, she says she’ll still find time to keep close tabs on her siblings, four of whom are twins, and a growing horde of nieces and nephews who she says, at last count, numbered 10.

One passion that remains on a back burner, for now at least, is the orphanage in Greece that Smith visited and ultimately “adopted” during two summer breaks. The center, which provides training and compassionate care for young adults with special needs, has been a focal point of support and several trips by Smith and 11 Kyrene volunteers.

As to how the local school district will confront the economic challenges that lie ahead , Smith says she has few concerns.

“Kyrene has positioned itself with a solid financial structure that will prevail through these days of crisis,” she says. “I feel like I’m leaving everything in incredibly competent hands.”


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