Featured, Local News

KMS headmaster announces departure after 18 years

After 18 years as head of Killington Mountain School, this year will be Tao Smith’s last.
Smith, 47, is leaving in July 2020 to lead his alma mater — Gould Mountain Academy in Bethel, Maine.
Smith told students and staff last Thursday that he was leaving KMS, and in a way, fulfilling the mission of the school he helped craft — to face challenges with courage and embrace personal growth for life beyond KMS.
Smith said he’s led the school by his own guiding principles—”treat others the way you want to be treated” and “leave a place better than you found it.”
“KMS is in a great place… there’s great people and a tremendous amount of community support,” Smith said. “The school is thriving. In some ways, that makes it easier to leave.”
Smith is returning to his roots. He graduated from Gould in 1990 before joining the men’s alpine race team at the University of Vermont, which won two Division I national championships during his time there.
Smith briefly raced professionally before returning to Gould as a faculty member for six years. Smith taught history, English and world language from 1995 to 2001. He also coached lacrosse, skiing and cycling and was director of the Outing Club and founder of the Philosophy Club.
Smith was just 29 when he was recruited to work at Killington Mountain School, bringing with him his insurmountable energy, which propelled the school from a “tutorial program to a real school,” said KMS Board of Trustees chair Mike Hone said in a phone interview.
“Under Tao’s leadership, KMS has become a national leader in education and athletics, but it has also developed into a place of warmth with a strong community and family-like atmosphere,” Hone added in a statement. “The next head must be someone who can continue the direction that has been set, and who will also lead KMS into the next decade as a place of learning, innovation and strong fiscal stewardship.”
When Smith started, KMS was a much different school. He was KMS’ only full-time, year round employee, he said. Students were scattered, some lived in the basement of some of the condominiums at Pico and some lived in a small dormitory on Stage Road.
The campus moved to its current location in 2005, which allowed it to expand and obtain its an identity. In 2011, KMS implemented a full-term academic program.
Now there are 50 employees, Smith said. The operating budget has grown from under $1 million when Smith started in 2001 to around $5 million in 2019. KMS’ enrollment has also doubled from 63 to 125 and the school is now accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.
“We are one of the premier sports speciality schools in the country,” Smith said. “We’ve developed a strong academic reputation, too.”
Smith said leaving KMS is bittersweet.
“We are excited about this new opportunity and adventure but we’re really torn,” said Smith, who’s preparing for the transition with his wife and kids, ages 18, 17, 15, 13 and twins—10. “This is our home.”
Smith said he’s received about six other job offers during his time at KMS, but none of them felt right until now.
“This one felt like the right thing at the right time,” he said. “I knew I could leave the place better than I found it.”
Smith said he was asked to apply to Gould, a full boarding school about double the size of KMS, last winter. After a series of interviews, he was Gould’s unanimous choice.
“As an alum and former faculty member, he brings credibility in understanding Gould and its community that few candidates could match,” said Gould Board of Trustees chair Phyllis Gardiner in a statement. “If the past is prologue, then Tao will bring a level of commitment and loyalty to our mission based on his past experiences at Gould. Even after 18 years at Killington Mountain School, Tao likes to say that Gould is in his DNA.”
Smith said he’s still learning what it takes to be a good leader.
“My education is still continuing,” he said. “I’m still learning. I think that’s been the most wonderful thing about this opportunity is the amount of knowledge and skill about systems and the process itself.”
A search committee for Smith’s replacement is underway. Smith will take a leadership role in selecting his successor at KMS.
“I want to make sure that whoever they appoint will be able to carry on my legacy and hopefully fix the things I couldn’t fix,” Smith said.
Smith said there’s still work left to do at KMS and improvements to be made. A $10 million capital improvement plan is underway to renovate the existing building. Smith is also looking forward to KMS growing its academic programs and relationships with alumni.
For now, Smith is focused on being present for the year ahead at KMS.
“To be ready (to move on) — it reflects back on Killington Mountain School and the quality of our place and what it does,” Smith said.

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