On April 6, 2022, J. Michael Smith—better known to most as Mike Smith—announced his upcoming retirement from his roles as president of HSLDA and HSLDA Action. Mike has served with HSLDA a total of 39 years.

During his time here, Mike has striven every day to continually “be all things to all people”—that is, to fill whatever role those around him needed at any given moment. And as a leader, these demands were by no means light:

  • As president of HSLDA, Mike had the final call on the many decisions that affected HSLDA’s administrative and day-to-day operations.
  • As HSLDA’s attorney for California, Mike assisted and advocated for member families in a state with hundreds of thousands of homeschoolers and frequent challenges to their right to homeschool.
  • As a board member of HSLDA since its founding in 1983, Mike thoughtfully weighed in on many critical financial and organizational questions.
  • As a true pioneer in the early homeschooling movement, Mike enthusiastically shared his family’s experiences with those around him who wanted to know more about this strange new educational option, introducing them to local and national resources.
  • As a father and husband, Mike led his family as they grew educationally, spiritually, and physically.

Smith Family Photo

The Smith family grabs a family photo, circa mid 1990s: Kari, Mike, Elizabeth, Chrissy, Andrew, and Erin.

2001 Legal Team

By 2001, HSLDA’s legal team had expanded to seven attorneys and six legal assistants. (Mike Farris not pictured.)

Joyce Burges and Mike Smith

In 2012, Louisiana leader and National Black Home Educators cofounder Joyce Burges congratulates Mike on his 25th anniversary of working with HSLDA.

Those who know him can attest that Mike fulfilled all these demands while seeking to serve and encourage those he led. . . and that he did so in spades.

A man of purpose

All employees—although Mike preferred to call us “co-laborers” instead of “employees,” a reminder of our mutual purpose in our diverse work assignments—knew the lengths to which our organization’s president would go for HSLDA’s member families and homeschool freedom.

Mike Smith 2

Mike Smith has a heart to encourage homeschool moms, whom he calls “America’s greatest heroes.” Here he chats with Iowa leader Barb Heki (center left) and Pennsylvania leader Mary Ann Eagleson (center right) and their respective daughters at a state leaders event in 2010.

Mike Smith 3

A deep shared love for homeschooling is evident in how often Mike and Elizabeth team up to serve homeschoolers.

Whether it meant flying across the country to address a state legislature, driving hours to lobby for good home education laws, or taking after-hours calls from HSLDA’s legal emergency hotline to walk a member family and officials through a tense misunderstanding, Mike made it his life’s purpose to—as much as possible—help homeschoolers codify, protect, and maintain their educational freedom.

Gathering team members around co-laborer John Bullock,Mike initiates a time of prayer, expressing gratitude and seeking God’s blessing.

This mission extended beyond HSLDA member families. Mike knew that HSLDA’s teamwork with state organizations, homeschool leaders, legislators, local groups, and hundreds of thousands of individual homeschooling families to make homeschooling legal in all 50 US states would benefit everyone who chose this educational option! And it has, right up through the 2020 pandemic homeschool surge and onward. As president, when national threats to homeschool freedom have arisen—such as the 2020 Harvard law school article calling for an effective ban on home education—Mike has led the charge in mounting the defense.

Under Mike’s leadership, HSLDA has also helped advocate for home education worldwide through our Global Relations department, assisting fledgling homeschool organizations in Kenya, France, Germany, and many other countries in an effort to make homeschooling possible for everyone worldwide.

Mike Smith with Brazilian Leaders

Brazilian homeschool leaders Alexandre and Vivian Moreira connect with Mike Smith and Mike Donnelly in 2013.

A man of passion

Many can do a job satisfactorily, but few can do it with the zeal and passion that Mike Smith has brought to his work. The energy with which he has tackled even the most seemingly mundane of tasks—from greeting his co-laborers to writing routine letters—has inspired everyone with whom he has interacted.

This passion shines through most when Mike speaks at local homeschool conferences. A dynamic, engaging, and compelling speaker with a natural sense of humor, Mike can persuade even the stiffest audience that homeschooling’s offering of freedom, flexibility, and excellence was worth the leap into this very different kind of educational opportunity.

Mike Smith at NLC 2015

Mike leads prayer at the 2015 National Leaders Conference.

And unlike other speakers who adopt a public persona for a stage audience, Mike has always been genuine, down-to-earth, and relatable. His energy reverberates through all parts of his life: even in private conversations, his innermost desire to see families and children thrive through the benefits of homeschooling has always been palpable. In the truest sense of the term, Mike is dedicated to seeing people live out the life they were created for.

A man of prayer

As a devout Christian, Mike clearly believes that he was created to serve the homeschooling movement by expanding freedom and protecting homeschooling families—and he sees this longtime purpose as a small part of his greater mission to serve Jesus Christ.

This faith-based motivation has also manifested in other ways: every Tuesday and Thursday morning, Mike has led the rest of HSLDA in a corporate prayer time, interceding for families, individuals, policies, and situations in need of change. Each quarter for the last six years, Mike has authored and sent out a prayer newsletter for those HSLDA members and friends who want to pray with HSLDA staff for specific needs.

And in his personal life, Mike has been a member of Gideons International for over 30 years and has served his local camp in almost every leadership position. He would say that his faith informs every aspect of his life, from his passion, to his energy, to his graciousness, to his instinct for justice and freedom, to his love. Anyone on the outside looking in—and indeed, anyone already on the inside—would agree.

Turning the page . . .

In this special issue of the Home School Court Report, you’ll hear from a few familiar names—friends of Mike, who have worked with him for decades on behalf of homeschooling and homeschool freedom and who want to say a few words as the longtime president of HSLDA starts a new chapter. You’ll also hear from Mike himself as he reflects on the blessings he’s experienced over the last 39 years and talks about turning the page to a new chapter. He’ll continue to be involved with HSLDA in some key ways—read on to learn more.