LUMBERTON — As a child growing up on the south side of Lumberton in Turner Terrace, Montressa Smith had people who pushed her to succeed.
Her parents were committed to her education, and she had educators in the public school system who pushed her into leadership roles and set high standards and expectations for her.
“I was heavily involved in student government, all through junior and high school,” Smith said. “I was voted class president my senior year.”
Smith went on to North Carolina A&T University in Greensboro, where she got her bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with a concentration in Management.
When asked about some of those mentors, several names spring to her mind. One is Shirley Stockton, who was her ninth-grade civics teacher and now is a trustee at Robeson Community College. Another is Loistine DeFreece, who was her principal at Lumberton Junior High School and again at Lumberton High School. DeFreece is now a member of the Public Schools of Robeson County Board of Education. Smith also gives credit to Susan Taylor, her chemistry teacher, and the late Glenda Stevens, her Student Government Association facilitator through junior high and high school.
“They saw something in me they felt was worth developing,” Smith said. “They put me in roles of leadership and encouraged me to step up. They always seemed to push me in those directions and they let me know that they believed in me.”
Smith said she always felt a level of accountability in her education from parents and teachers.
“There were high standards set, and there were high expectations,” she said. “The expectation was that we did our work, not our parents. It was always stressed that we do the work. That’s important when you go to college, because there’s nobody to tell you these things in college. You have to own it.”
After college, Smith landed a job with American General Finance and moved to Goldsboro for several years with the company before returning to Lumberton, where she lived while managing one of the company’s offices in Elizabethtown. After the company was sold, she joined Southeastern Health in 2008, working in the business office of the fitness center in Lumberton. After several title changes and reorganizations at the fitness center, Smith was named the director in 2012.
In addition to fitness services, which includes a CrossFit Box and fitness centers in Lumberton, Pembroke and Red Springs, she oversees rehabilitation services and the Southeastern Lifestyle Day Spa.
Now 45, Smith has seen how the Public Schools of Robeson County can set up children for success, for her and her two sons. Her first son attended South Lumberton Elementary, just like her, which is now named W.H. Knuckles. He graduated from Lumberton High School and now is a petty officer first class in the U.S. Navy. Her second son, who was born 19 years after her first child, is enrolled at East Robeson Primary.
“The Public Schools of Robeson County is much like any other school system,” she said. “There are those who are driven to succeed and those who are OK with the status quo. It has been my experience, then and now, that it takes committed educators and parents working collaboratively and supporting one another with the child at the center. My parents employed this strategy. I employed this strategy with my oldest child, and I am currently using it with my 7-year-old son.”
Roxana Ross is content writer/photographer for Southeastern Health in the Corporate Communications department.