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Jason Smith

More than three decades later, friends remain like family

By Joanne Beck


Hiro with his Batavia family
Matthew and Mary Smith, left, and Jason Smith on right, visit with Hiroshige Yamabe during his eighth visit to Batavia since he was an exchange student in 1988 at Batavia High School. 
Photo by Joanne Beck

Of all the locales seen so far — Cooperstown and the beverage trail, Myrtle Beach, Philadelphia, Niagara Falls, the must-see for all international visitors, Amish country in Ohio, and cities from Los Angeles to Boston — Hiroshige Yamabe quickly pinpointed his favorite place in America so far.

“Batavia, of course,” he said. 

Yamabe, whose American friends call Hiro, is getting to know Batavia and Western New York fairly well after his eighth visit this week. His first one was as exchange student from Tokyo, Japan when the Smith family hosted him — from parents Jim and Mary to son Jason — and they have forged a relationship that has endured more than three decades. 

Yamabe is director of procurement and strategic sourcing for Jacques Marie Mage, a luxury eyeglass and sunglass company. His job often takes him to California and Connecticut, which are nice to visit, but they’re not the same, he said, as Batavia’s homey — he needed some help with the phrasing — laudable appeal.

“So I feel, like, more relaxed, and they're something I expect, the ground on the earth's crust — salt of the earth,” he said Monday during his visit to Jason Smith’s Batavia home.

Yamabe has come to regard the Smiths as true friends and a second family, he said. And Batavia as his second home. Jason Smith met him as a fellow student and musician at Batavia High School, after his original host family didn’t work out. The Smiths agreed to take the teenager in, and he lived with them for about seven months. 

Since then, Jason has visited him in Japan, attended his wedding, and Yamabe in turn went to Jason’s wedding, and has made several return trips to a Smith residence — whether it be the parent’s home, Jason’s apartment and now at Jason’s own family home. 

This trip was one of a culinary experience — touring many local haunts, including Eli Fish Brewing Company, Rancho Viejo, Miss Batavia Diner, Cinquino’s, Southside Deli and Avanti Pizza & Wood-Fired Kitchen, which serves up huge slices, Jason said, in Medina.

The reunited classmates also visited the late Jim Smith’s grave, as Yamabe has been kept up to date on all of the family news through the decades, and called Jason once he learned his host dad had died earlier this year.

“They made a decision that they accept me. It was my pleasure to be hosted,” Yamabe said. “So I'm very pleased with that. I always like to think of, like, the family and all the friends here … I always think that's a good experience, is the love from the family here.” 

Mary Smith recalled how Yamabe’s first host family didn’t quite work out. She didn’t share the details but said that the high school principal reached out to Jason, a student at the time,  to see if perhaps his family would be able to help out. They stepped up and offered to host this visitor who eventually grew so close to the family that they didn’t want to see him go back to Japan.

“We had a big party for him and there’s a lot of crying kids, it was very sad when he had to go back,” she said. 

She remembered how he liked the Buffalo Bills, so they gave him a Bills jersey for Christmas — and he was “thrilled,” and how his Christmas cookies had to be bare, with no icing, since he’s not one for sweets. When it snowed, Yamabe would shovel the driveway right down to the nub of the blacktop, which seemed to impress the Smiths, she said. 

“It was like losing a family member,” when he returned to his home, she said.

They have exchanged gifts over the years — Mary has a curio cabinet full of Japanese keepsakes -- and Jason’s table had some goodies from this trip — a hand-crafted knife, one of the Japanese region’s specialties, and some candies, including Kit Kats, which are pronounced kitty katto, and mean triumph, Yamabe said. They are considered a good luck item to give to people, and the tiny wrapped packages even include lines to write messages to the recipient.

Of course, of all the tangible items, there are the memories of spending time together, trying each other’s cuisine — Yamabe enjoyed his first garbage plate — and meeting up with old friends, as Yamabe has done with BHS classmates. And when Jason and Hiro get together, they talk about their jobs (Jason is superintendent of Batavia City Schools), their wives and families and life in general. 

“We became good friends in high school. We're just kind of continuing naturally. And he came back and I've been there twice,” Jason said. “We just pick up where we left off.”

Hiro with garbage plate
What's more Western New York than a garbage plate? (Other than Buffalo chicken wings, perhaps) Hiro had to check one out at Miss Batavia Diner during this trip to Batavia.
Submitted Photo
Hiro with BCSD sign
Checking out the changes at Batavia High School, Hiro posed for a few photos along the way.
Submitted Photo
Hiro with Ken Hay plaque
Remembering a 'musician of note,' Hiro pauses at the musical wall of fame to see a plaque for Ken Hay, who has died since tge 52-year-old participated in the music program as a visiting student from Japan. 
Submitted Photo
Hiro with friends at Eli Fish
Class of 1991 BHS grads Steve Tanner and Jason Mapes reminisce with Hiro at Eli Fish Brewing Company, which wasn't there when Hiro first came to town as an exchange student from Japan in the late 1980s. Hiro enjoyed the craft beverages, and meeting up with students he hung out with 35 years ago.
Submitted Photo. 
Steve Tufts with Hiro
Steve Tufts, Class of BHS 1991, talks about old times with Hiro at Eli Fish in Batavia.
Submitted Photo


BCSD receives Utica National school safety excellence award

By Press Release

Press Release:

The Batavia City School District is proud to announce it is one of at least 165 school districts and the Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) in New York State to receive the Utica National Insurance Group's "School Safety Excellence Award" for 2023 at the Titanium with Honors level. 

The honor is presented annually and recognizes school districts' safety efforts as they work to help keep students, staff, and visitors safe. Batavia City School District officials received a certificate to commemorate the district's safety efforts and a $500 award for use in furthering those efforts from Utica National representatives. 

Utica National's School Safety Excellence Award Program has three levels—titanium, platinum, and gold—in which schools can earn a meritorious distinction by meeting specific criteria to enhance overall safety. 

Through the program, schools with their own transportation, schools with contract transportation, and BOCES are evaluated. Categories covered include bullying prevention programs, playground safety, and other areas, and are measured using specific, quantifiable surveys. 

“We’re proud and encouraged to receive this award from Utica National,” said Batavia City School District Superintendent Jason Smith. “The health, safety, and security of our students, faculty, staff, and community is our top priority. We’re consistently evaluating our programs, and this award will certainly go towards our continued efforts.” 

"Safety and health concerns continue to be a priority in our school districts," explained Brian Saville, Senior Vice President of Utica National's Educational Institutions Unit. "Districts that go 'above and beyond' to provide a safe, healthy, and focused culture for learning are to be applauded, and we're pleased to count Batavia City School District among them."

For more than 45 years, Utica National Insurance Group has kept kids and school staff safe and currently insures more than 300 school districts in upstate New York alone. 

New Batavia City Schools superintendent gets acquainted on first day

By Joanne Beck


It’s trivia time for students at Batavia High School: who is a huge Buffalo Bills fan, an avid reader, a musician, runner and is a Bruce Springsteen fan?

If you were listening to this morning’s announcements, the answer is a no-brainer. Newly hired Superintendent  Jason Smith revealed those recreational activities during an on-air interview from the high school's main office. Smith is also happy to “talk books” of all kinds, listen to classic 1980s rock and roll, play his trombone in some local bands and spend family time watching the fourth season of Cobra Kai.

Aside from his personal passions, Smith is looking forward to returning to BHS as a 1990 graduate. 

“I have always been very proud of Batavia. I’m excited to have the opportunity to work with students, and to work with the faculty and staff,” he said. “My drive has gone from 40 minutes to four.”

As the former superintendent of Lyndonville Central School, Smith’s daily travel went north to Orleans County. He was there for the last 10 years, after serving as Elba middle and high school principal, and a teacher in Albion. After graduating from Batavia High School, Smith's college major was history, and he attended both Geneseo and Brockport State College.

According to Board of Education President Alice Benedict, Smith met some key characteristics that community members had sought, including being a hometown resident and not making Batavia a short stop on the way to another district. The board, with direction from Genesee Valley BOCES Superintendent Kevin Macdonald, conducted a search in late 2021 after former Superintendent Anibal Soler announced he was leaving.

 Smith brings with him a lifestyle philosophy he’d like to share with everyone he encounters.

“Going back to when I taught, I always believed in the concept of high expectations,” he said. “Raise the bar, set high goals. It’s our job as the adults to help achieve those high expectations.”

Smith began his career in 1994 in the Albion Central School District as a high school social studies teacher had various principal positions at Elba Central School from 2004 to 2011, and has been at Lyndonville Central from 2011 to present.

He received his Certificate of Advanced Study in Educational Administration and his Masters of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Brockport. He is also a graduate of The State University of New York at Geneseo, where he received his Bachelor of Arts in History with a Minor in Sociology.

Monday was Smith’s first official day at the city school district. He and Interim Superintendent Scott Bischoping had previously reviewed district business, Bischoping said. Smith's first board meeting will be at 6 p.m. on Jan. 11 in the high school library. Board meetings will resume on the third Thursday of the month beginning in February. 


Top photo: New Superintendent Jason Smith answers questions during Monday morning announcements at Batavia High School. Above, Smith answers questions during announcements with Student Co-Mayor Mackenzie Harmon and high school Principal Paul Kesler Monday at the high school. Photos by Howard Owens.


Batavia City School District names new superintendent

By Press Release


Press Release

Batavia City School District’s Board of Education has reached a contractual agreement and has formally appointed Jason Smith as the district’s new superintendent. Smith is scheduled to start his new role on Jan. 3, 2022. 

“The Board of Education is thrilled to welcome Jason Smith as the new superintendent of the Batavia City School District. We’re confident that his years of previous superintendent and administrative experience will serve our district well, not to mention he’s a BHS grad himself,” Board of Education President Alice Ann Benedict said in a news release. “As a local Batavian with children in our district, Jason understands the unique challenges and opportunities within our community, and we’re certain he will be a strong and dedicated leader for our students, staff, and families.” 

Smith first thanked the board for “entrusting me with this tremendous opportunity.”

“As a proud BHS grad, I am thrilled to be returning to Batavia in this new leadership role. Batavia is a very special place to me, and I look

forward to working alongside the incredible and inspiring students, staff, and community members,” he said in the release.  “I can’t wait to hit the ground running in the new year.”  

A 1990 Batavia High School graduate, Smith has served as the Superintendent of Schools in the Lyndonville Central School District since 2011. He also held various principal positions in the Elba Central School district from 2004-2011. He began his career in 1994 in the Albion Central School District as a high school social studies teacher. 

Smith received his Certificate of Advanced Study in Educational Administration and his Masters of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Brockport. He is also a graduate of The State University of New York at Geneseo, where he received his Bachelor of Arts in History with a Minor in Sociology.

Kevin MacDonald, District Superintendent of  Genesee Valley BOCES, served as the district's search consultant.

Submitted Photo of Jason Smith

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