Harlan has been ranked in the top 10 percent of high schools in the state in recent years on CATS scores, with the Class of 2006 placing first in arts and humanities as juniors and the Class of 2008 ranking first in reading as sophomores.
The school's impressive academic performance made Smith an attractive target for other schools, and officials from the Middlesboro Independent Schools recently selected Smith as the principal at Middlesboro High School.
"It was a very tough choice," Smith said. "It's an increase in salary. I will only have to be concerned with four grade levels, as opposed to eight at Harlan. Another thing is my children, and I will be a little closer to them."
A graduate of Cawood High School and Eastern Kentucky University, Smith worked eight years as a teacher at Leslie County Middle School before moving on to Harlan, where she served one year as an assistant principal before being named principal.
Smith credits teamwork among teachers and parental support as reasons for Harlan's success.
"It's been a great 12 years. There's a really effective team there, and the leadership is excellent as far as everybody working together with a common goal," Smith said.
"The faculty and staff at Harlan are so wonderful. They are willing to do whatever it takes to make the school a success. We also have a very supportive group of parents."
Harlan Independent Schools Superintendent David Johnson thanked Smith for her contributions to the district.
"Over the past 11 years she's served as principal of Harlan High School we've had a great deal of success, especially academically, and her leadership has played a major role in that," Johnson said. "We greatly appreciate all the service that she's given to our district and community and wish her the best."
Johnson said the district won't "rush into" selecting a replacement for Smith, noting that he would review applications and forward names to the school's site-based council to make the selection.