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It’s not like Mechelle Smith is moving to Montana or Montenegro. Merriman Park Elementary’s beloved assistant principal is headed less than 3 miles to White Rock when school begins next month. But even in the midst of a pandemic, even under sweltering skies, her former students and parents couldn’t let her start her new job without just the right send-off.

SUVs full of sunburned children lined up for blocks Wednesday, honking their horns and waving signs of support.

“Mrs. Smith is super-nice, and she’s a very good vice principal,” said third-grader Emily Brown. “She encourages people to do things, and she walks around giving compliments. The students at White Rock are going to really like her. I’m going to miss her a lot, but I think she’ll be happy at her new school. I do believe she will miss us, though.”

PTA president Ashley Westfall agreed on all counts.

“Ms. Smith is the absolute best A.P. we’ve ever had, so we wanted to show her the love. She’s so warm. She makes every one of these kiddos feel like they are her very own. She knows everyone’s name – 600 kids and their parents. We send our kids into school and know they are well taken care of and loved and getting an education and making friends and learning life skills. I’ve laughed with her and cried with her, and I know I’ll be friends with her forever.”

Ashley’s daughter, Paige, got straight to the point.

“Ms. Smith makes things fun that might be really boring,” said the fifth-grader. “She’s an amazing principal. The kids at White Rock should respect her. We’re going to miss her a lot.”

Smith arrived at the home of MPE teacher and parent Ruth Wetherington expecting the end-of-year teacher party the crew never got to have.

“I’m blown away,” she said as a parade of cars began coming down the street. “This touches me very much. Lake Highlands is a special community.”

“I’m heartbroken to be leaving MPE,” continued Smith, “but so many people have told me to look out for their friends or cousins at White Rock. I feel like I’m still kind of in the family.”

“Mechelle has given her heart and soul to Merriman Park these past three years,” said Wetherington. “She knew my kids’ names, she watched them play basketball, she had candy hidden for them in her office. They felt loved and known by Mechelle. As a teacher, she’s one of the best I’ve gotten to work for. She knows her people – she pushes us and wants to see everyone grow.”

“I’m not only a better teacher, but I’m a better person because of Mechelle Smith,” agreed Kindergarten teacher Jennifer Leavell. “She’s taught me so much. I’ll be forever grateful.”