In sports, when you have a franchise guy, he’s a player who leads at his position and excels on the field. He’s also a leader. He embodies what your team is about, what every win represents. He typifies the work ethic. He exudes the attitude. He is unparalleled, not always because there are no better players in the league, but because he fits PERFECTLY within the team he’s on. And sports fans know (as I’m sure non-fans of sport can also imagine), that a franchise guy, for all his strengths and weaknesses, eventually represents the entire city. This is Lou Gehrig stuff. This is Michael Jordan stuff.
Allen Smith is the franchise guy for Denver Public Schools. He grew up in the system. He followed in the footsteps of his Godmother the former DPS superintendent Evie Dennis; his grandmother; his mother and his aunt. Each worked in DPS, each were trailblazers, and each inspired with their stories of success. In short, Allen grew up with an incredible reverence for education, and great examples, because even the most athletic player needs good coaching and even the most natural leader needs mentoring. But before Allen was a leader in education he was a young leader, on the basketball court and off. He played for Denver’s George Washington High School team while concurrently serving on the Student Council and in a youth task force focused on educating students of color. Even in high school, Allen was taking the lead and playing for keeps.
His skills on the court earned him an athletic scholarship at Eastern Washington University, where he played Division I basketball. Smith’s leadership, poise and abilities earned him the opportunity to travel with the team for road games (something VERY rare for freshman players). He later transferred to Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio, to be closer to family. While at Central State, Smith’s sporting and leadership legend grew. He became the Marauders all-time scoring leader and was a Black College All-American. That’s what a franchise guy does. But his leadership didn’t stop there. Allen Smith also participated in Student Government and was a Student Ambassador. And he never lost sight of education, either, he knew that great leaders are well-rounded ones, and he graduated with B.A. in Mass Communications and a minor in Speech in 1993.
After college, Allen tried out for the NBA, and then played overseas in Brazil, but he realized that his skills, and his leadership, could be better utilized off the basketball court, at least professionally. (He’ll still break your ankles with a killer cross-over if you challenge him.) He worked for urban radio stations, where he met his wife, Yana Symone, and they moved back to our neck of the woods, Denver, in 2001. That was when Allen Smith, an all-star while attending school, made the leap to a career in education, and took a position as Admission Director for DeVry University. But it was the opportunity to open a school for at-risk youth that really lit his fire. He obtained a Masters in Arts and Education from the University of Denver, and then sought 4 principal certifications because he knew that success would only come to a prepared leader. A franchise guy practices. A franchise guy shows up and makes his game better.
Ready to succeed, in 2003, Skyland Community High School opened as the only at-risk-focused school in Denver. By 2006, SCHS had their first class of 100% graduation and college acceptance and attendance. But Allen didn’t stop there. He was a principal for 8 years, the only African-American high school principal in all of DPS. He was the principal of Martin Luther King Jr. Early College, Denver’s 4th ranked high school. But Allen, a true franchise guy, never fails to lead and exceed. He’s now the Executive Director of the Denver Summit Schools Network in the School Turnaround program, which takes underachieving, underloved schools and offers them, and their students, an opportunity to excel.
So, when Allen Smith, the basketball player, the educator, the leader and the franchise guy wanted to work with us on his project, Growing The Dream, an event that would bond, congratulate and inspire the neighbors, children and business owners in Montbello and Green Valley Ranch, we didn’t think twice. And, if this were merely an issue of sports, there’d be no trade sweet enough for us to send Allen Smith away. He’s our guy. He’s education. He’s inspiration. He’s Denver.
In 2013, Allen took his talents to North Carolina. In 2014, he went to Oakland, California, and in 2016, he returned to Denver where he now has the role of Chief of Culture Equity and Leadership Teams for Denver Public Schools.