Part 2 - For Such A Time As This... Fitzpatrick Shares the Rest of His Story
Orange County School Board District 7 Candidate Matthew J. Fitzpatrick shares Part 2 of his story.
When I graduated from Lyman High School in 1986, my older brother and I applied to attend UCF. We wanted to get an apartment together and go to college together. I got accepted to UCF, but my brother didn’t because he had dropped out of college a couple years back when he blew his knee out. I didn’t want to go to UCF without him, so we both signed up for what was called Seminole Community College—currently called Seminole State College. I enjoyed attending college with my brother...even if it did take me three years to get my two-year degree. Part of the problem was the fact that I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. Basketball was my everything, and now that my dream had imploded, I didn’t have much direction in my life. I enjoyed woodworking and building furniture, so I decided to take some business courses and get a two-year degree in business in order to start some sort of woodworking business. I took Business Math, Intro to Business, Business Law, Accounting, and Intro to Computers. Mid-way through the semester, I had a change of heart and decided a Business degree wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life…I stopped trying in many of my classes, and I ended up with three D’s and two B’s…a 1.8 GPA. I was put on academic probation and was in danger of losing my Pell Grant. Now, I was in the pressure cooker. I decided to just take general education classes and buy some time until I could figure out what I wanted to do with my life.
One class that I took during that next semester was English Composition I. I didn’t like writing—it was my nemesis. Writer’s block was a normal state of mind for me at the time. I was getting an “F” in the class mid-way through when I heard about this strange feature in college where a student could drop a class if they weren’t doing very well. So, without much delay, I dropped Comp I. I wish I would have know about this magic eject button during my first semester. Dropping the class may have solved my immediate problem with Comp I, but I still had to pass it in order to get my AA degree. I remember how depressed I was at the time. How can you get a college degree if you can’t write? I remember my brother saying something to me at the time that was the lyrics of a song… “Just keep doing your best, pray that it’s blessed, and Jesus takes care of the rest.” I didn’t know exactly how Jesus could take care of the rest short of him taking the class for me and writing the papers, but I decided to sign up for the class again with a different teacher, and somehow I squeezed by with a “C”. I was so relieved. But now I had to take Comp II…
As I look back on my own academic troubles during the early years of college, as I mentioned, I couldn’t write very well. I also remember that I had to take intermediate Algebra because my ACT scores weren’t very good. I don’t know why I struggled so much…and I don’t really know whom to blame—8 years of Catholic grade school, and then 4 different public high schools for the four years of my high school career. My younger brother seemed to be doing fine…he wanted to be a Supreme Court Justice from the age of 2, it seemed, and he went off to Stetson University on an Academic Scholarship and was seemingly breezing through college. He attended all the same schools as I attended, but he just seemed to be smarter for some reason. I believe he peaked early, and I peaked a little later. (Just a joke…relax Marty…J. But it does remind me of the fact that the Best & Brightest scam tends to smile on those who peak early. Oh well, the mysteries of life.)
Another thing I think about when I look back on my life during those early years when I struggled with writing is how much things have changed—I love to write now. In fact, I write for fun. Something that I think helped me over the years was the fact that when I became a Christian, I was told that I should write in a journal. I have written in a journal for the last 30 years of my life, and I think the daily, un-graded writing that I did for the last 30 years has paid off. I try to encourage students to write in a journal in order to develop their own inner voice and their ability to articulate their thoughts and ideas through writing. If a student can write, they can probably pass just about any college course they take, barring upper mathematics courses...
Another course that had a lasting impact on my life was Western Civilization. I really didn’t think much about history at the time. I remember the teacher talking about the Roman Empire and the Christian era. He was talking about Jesus’ resurrection and he said that he truly thought that the disciples really did see Jesus after he died. My Professor wasn’t a Christian, so he clarified his statement. He said he thought that they were all in the same room smoking opiates of some type and they got high and all hallucinated at the same time and saw Jesus. Because they all thought they saw Jesus, they went out and passionately preached this message about Jesus and his resurrection. For him, this theory explained why the disciples were willing to die for their beliefs—they all thought they saw the same thing. I had only been a Christian for less than 2 years, and I had never heard this line of reasoning…I really didn’t know what to make of what he was saying—he was the expert. I remember questioning him, “I find it hard to believe that they were all high on drugs and they somehow synchronized their hallucinations and they saw Jesus and then they went out and lived lives of honesty, love, sacrifice, giving, and taking care of their families.” Such a life just didn’t sound like the lifestyle of someone strung out on drugs…at least not the people I knew who had struggled with drugs. As wild as his ideas sounded, they caused me to be curious about history. I decided to take some more classes in history. I began to read a lot of books about ancient history to find out what really happened back in the times of Jesus—was there anything to my professor’s wild-eyed theory. I wanted to find out what I could be sure about. (As a side note, something else that entered my life at this time was doubt and skepticism. I don’t know if it had anything to do with my professor’s views or what, but I have battled doubt and depression for some 20 or so years regarding trying to find 100% confidence and faith. Even to this day, I still have questions, but they don’t scare me as much any more. I have grown more comfortable with the nature of faith and mystery. Through my own struggles, I can identify with the faith struggles of others, and I find it very natural to have mercy on those who doubt. (Jude 1:22 – “Have mercy on those who doubt.”) I find myself often falling back on a quote by Mark Twain, “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.” I find it to be therapeutic regarding my own struggles to spend most of my time focusing on the things that I do understand.
I fell in love with history during college. I remember the class where it happened…it was one of my professors, Michael Williams, who happened to be a great storyteller. I just loved going to his class and soaking up his stories about U.S. History from 1877 to the present. I had him for two or three times a week, and each class was at least two hours at a time, but time just seemed to fly by. I never looked forward to a class like I looked forward to his class. It was during his class that I first thought about becoming a teacher. Another thought in my mind…”Maybe I could become a History teacher and create a similar classroom environment where students look forward to coming to class.” And so I decided to become a History teacher.
When I graduated from UCF in the summer of 1992, there were no teaching jobs to be found…unlike today. I remember attending a teacher job fair at UCF and I walked up to the Hillsborough County representative and asked him what advise he would give to a newly graduated, aspiring Social Studies teacher. I will never forget his response. Without missing a beat, he replied, “Go into insurance.” He obviously didn’t understand my life history. Insurance wasn’t an option for me…My dad struggle so much during his life that my views were obviously skewed against a career in insurance. Fortunately, I painted houses during my 6 years of college, even running my own painting business for a while, so I had something to fall back on until I could find a teaching position. I’ll never forget how much I just wanted to have my own classroom and teach and interact with my students. I wanted to discuss and debate the great topics and events of history. Painting houses wasn’t a bad job…it was quiet, mostly mindless, work, so it gave me time to think. Painting is the perfect job for a budding philosopher…
After six months of painting, I remember one Friday night in early 1993 when I really wanted to find a teaching job, but I wanted to find the right teaching job. I recall praying that night, “ God, I don’t want just any job. I want the job that you want me to have. I pray that you cause someone to call me for the job that I am supposed to have. Obviously, this prayer was a bit odd in that there were not jobs available at the time. I guess it was a prayer of “faith”, because God could create a job out of thin air. Well, on the next day, Saturday morning, I got a call from someone I had attended church with in the past. They were calling me because a small private school, Pine Castle Christian Academy, desperately needed a Social Studies teacher, and my name came to her mind—her kids attended the school, and she heard they were looking for a teacher. Apparently, the most popular teacher in the school was relieved of duty during the winter holiday, and his replacement only lasted for 3 weeks before he was relieved of duty as well. I would be number three for this Social Studies position. I told her I was very interested…especially after the prayer I had prayed. An interview was set up with the Headmaster for Sunday, and I was standing in front of a classroom full of students on Monday morning. I had never seen such a quick answer to prayer. Some would say it was coincidence, and I must admit that my skeptical mind likes to go there at times, but there was no denying that I prayed something very specific on Friday, and by Monday I was done painting. My painting boss offered me a significant raise if I stayed in the painting business, but my passion was to teach. The year was 1993, and I was only going to be making $15,000 a year with five preps—World History, World Geography, 7th Grade Speech, and Biblical Ethics. It was a tough assignment, and the pay wasn’t great, but you can’t trade your passion for any amount of money.
I worked at Pine Castle Christian Academy from 1993 through the end of the school year in 1995. My wife graduated that year with her RN degree from UCF, and she was recruited to go into the Air Force. We prayed for a sign and received a specific sign that we were supposed to go into the military…and we ended up getting stationed on the other side of the United States…in Fairfield, California…beautiful northern California. As my wife was working hard in the Air Force as an RN, I found a job at Vacaville HS, a public high school near Travis Air Force Base. We loved our time out in California…we made a lot of new friends…and it was absolutely one of the most enjoyable times of our lives, but when my wife had our first child, Jacquelyn, in 1997, and then she was pregnant with our 2nd child, Steven, in 1999, our hearts turned toward home and we wanted to move back to Orlando.
We moved back to Orlando in 1999, and I found a job teaching Social Studies at Boone HS. Boone HS was a great place to work. I loved the great many traditions that make up Boone HS, and I enjoyed working with Mark Rickman and the Boys’ Varsity Basketball team. My second year there as an assistant coach our team made it to the Florida State finals for the largest school classification. We ran into a very skilled, talented, and tall team from Fort Lauderdale Dillard HS. They were in the middle of a run of winning four straight Boys’ Basketball State Championships. I believe their top seven players all received Division 1 scholarships… which meant that two guys on the team were coming off the bench and they still got D1 scholarships. This reminded me of my own immaturity from when I was a senior in high school and I couldn’t accept the fact that I was coming off the bench. God has a sense of humor, and he has the way of opening one’s eyes. We lost the State Championship, but it was a great memory that I will cherish forever. At the end of the year, a few things were in the works that caused me to rethink my life a little bit. My family was going to be moving to Apopka that summer, and I had just taken a Microsoft Office Suite course at Valencia Community College—I took the class to recertify as a teacher. There was a Computer Applications/TV Productions position open at Apopka Memorial Middle School that I was interested in. I loved teaching History, but the FCAT was on the prowl. I had always taught the lower-level, regular students, and I saw the writing on the wall. My students wouldn’t be able to compete with the Honors and AP students. My students’ scores would always be lower than those other students. I didn’t think it was fair for teachers to be evaluated by the scores of their students…especially if the lower-level students were taking the same test as the upper-level students. One other thing that was running through my mind was the fact that I didn’t feel like I was making much of a difference in the lives of students. It seemed like the students that needed the most help were so far behind by the time they got to me in the 10th grade that there was nothing I could do to help them that late in their academic career. I started thinking that maybe a move to the middle school level would help me get to kids at a younger age, which would help me get to them before they started making bad decisions and knocking themselves off track for success. And so I took a leap of faith outside of my comfort zone in Social Studies. I remember a line that I kept reminding myself of was, “good is the enemy of great…you have to let go of a good job if you want a great job.” This was a line out of a new book that had come out that year in 2001 – Good to Great by Jim Collins.
I transferred to Apopka Memorial Middle School during the summer of 2001. Right before school started, I remember thinking to myself, “What are you thinking? Why are you taking a risk on something you don’t know? Life was good in Social Studies…why would you invite unknown chaos into your life?” It was too late to turn back…full steam ahead. It was tough at first teaching classes of 38 or so students, using LC3 apple computers from the late 80’s or early 90’s. I did adjust, and I loved every minute of it. I was teaching 7th grade, which was an animal unique unto itself. I remember attending a training when I first started at AMMS, and the presenter said something about middle school students: “Middle School students run wherever they are going. They don’t know where they are going. And they want to hit someone when they get there.” I found that statement to be mostly true. I enjoyed working with my middle school students. Apple was in the early revolutionary stages of their comeback, and one program that my inner-city students really liked was GarageBand, which they could use to mix beats and record their own rap songs. I allowed the students to come to my class after school to record their hit singles. At some point during my last year at AMMS, the students discovered that I lived fairly close to the school and they started showing up at my house wanting to record their songs on my equipment at home. I went to the middle school level in order to help kids, and I saw this as an opportunity. I made a deal with them that they could come by on Wednesday and record songs, then we would feed them a hot meal, and then I could either give them a ride home or they could go to church with us. I never knew who was going to show up at our house. Many times, 10 students might show up…of which, five I might not even know before that day. I told them the only rule I had was that they couldn’t sing about violence, sex, drugs, or use profanity. They complained at first…saying there’s nothing to sing about, but they somehow figured it out and put out some pretty good music for amateurs. I’ll never forget what one of them told me one day when I didn’t have time for them to come in and work on songs…the student said, “Mr. Fitz, you have to let us make songs on your computer. If we are not doing this kind of stuff here with you, we are doing a lot worse stuff in our neighborhood. What he said stuck with me, and it has caused me to think real hard about the extracurricular options that we have in place for our at-risk students that need extra support, mentoring, and tutoring.
While teaching computer applications and TV Production at the middle school for a couple years, it was during the technology revolution of the early 2000’s, and something I discovered at the time was that I really enjoyed helping other teachers with technology needs and questions. It was at that time that I received an email that mentioned an information meeting about getting a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership in order to become an administrator. I had never thought about becoming an administrator, but for some reason, this email caught my attention. I remember a thought bouncing around in my mind…”I like helping teachers with technology issues, maybe I would like helping teachers with other needs related to teaching…maybe I could help students and make a difference in their lives by helping their teachers. And so my journey to become an administrator began. “Good is the enemy of great.”
I became the 7th Grade Dean during my last year at Apopka Memorial MS. Seventh grade is that special grade where the universe collapses in on itself. Sixth graders are typically a little scared when they arrive on the middle school campus, so they are somewhat behaved. Eighth Graders our the “mature” students on campus, so peer-pressure helps them to somewhat stay in line. Seventh graders…well, they are no longer scared, and they certainly aren’t mature…at least no the majority of them…and anything goes for seventh graders. I had taught seventh graders for 3 years prior to becoming their dean, so I was somewhat combat-ready. Being a dean for that year opened up my mind to the world of school administration. Toward the end of the year, I was informed by one of our history teachers that a new high school was opening up—Ocoee HS—and he was going to go there to teach, and they still had a TV Production position open if I was interested. I was torn. I had just got accepted into the AP Pool, which meant that I could become an AP that summer, but I still liked teaching, and a high school TV Production position was intriguing. I think what tipped the scales for me was when I was in a grocery store in Winter Garden and I overheard two mothers talking. One said to the other, “I didn’t know how my son would handle Mr. Armbruster leaving West Orange HS, but he seems to have adjusted.” I thought to myself, “What high school student cares that much who their Principal is?” TV Production was certainly an attractive opportunity, but learning school leadership from someone that had an ability to connect with students to the point that they were sad that he was leaving their school…now that was someone I wanted to learn from. I decided I had to take a risk and interview for the TV Production position. The Assistant Principal positions were mostly filled, and they probably wouldn’t take on a brand new AP at a brand new high school, but I could be the TV Production teacher and have fun in class working with students while at the same time film everything that the Principal did as he set out to establish a brand new school culture at a brand new school. I was told at the time by District level management that if I went back into the classroom to teach, it would be at least 2 years before I could apply for an AP position. I didn’t care, “Good is the enemy of great.”
After teaching TV Production at Ocoee HS for a year, I got re-inspired for school leadership and became the Dean of attendance. I loved TV Production, but I felt the call to leading a school…helping teachers so that they could help students succeed. The following year I became the Dean of the Yale building, which was one of the four small learning communities that were established at the school. Mr. Armbruster had set up quite a dynamic environment at Ocoee HS…he was doing things long before the rest of the district seemed to be attempting the same new ideas—Professional Learning Communities, Small Learning Communities, Full Inclusion, Freshmen Mentorship Program, Renaissance Celebrations, and many other ideas that made Ocoee HS special. The school culture and climate that were created at Ocoee HS was one of the best I’ve worked in during my 23 years in Education. The population was a tough crowd that came from Apopka, Evans and West Orange, and everything wasn’t always Peachy, but somehow, students with many different backgrounds were coming together to form a school family. Special accomplishments were realized at Ocoee HS, and I am going to save them for another blog. During December of 2007, I interviewed for an AP position at Boone HS…and I got it…I was now going to become an administrator. I wasn’t sure I would be able to be an administrator, but I figured I had to at least try—Good is the enemy of great!”
Becoming an Assistant Principal at Boone HS was a dream come true. I had interview at a few other schools, including Ocoee HS, Edgewater HS, and Wekiva HS…I even interviewed at Boone HS and didn’t get the position earlier in the year. I remember praying that I would get the right job at the right school. Boone HS was the right school…it was the perfect answer to my prayers. Not only did I know many of the teachers and staff from my 2 years of teaching there 6 years prior, but they also needed someone with experience in technology, attendance, and Social Studies…three things that were in my wheelhouse. When a job is a perfect fit, you can’t ask for anything better. I could certainly say it was all a coincidence, but something inside of me says it was more than that. The first duty I had a Boone HS was covering the Football State Championship at the Citrus Bowl. The Boone HS football team was undefeated, and they were playing a tough Miami Northwestern team. The Boone Braves came up short in their quest to win a State Championship, but what a run it was. The other event I still remember from those early days when I joined the Boone HS team was the annual pancake breakfast that Boone HS does every year for their seniors and their National Honor Society students. The Pancake Man comes in makes thousands of pancakes for the students and staff, and he flips them to each person who stands ready to catch them on their plate. What a fun time…and the pancakes were good, too.
I spent about three years at Boone HS as an Assistant Principal. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience as a new Assistant Principal under Dr. McMillen. Dr. McMillen knew a thing or two about the traditions of Boone HS, having been a former student there, and she really supported me and mentored me in many ways. At the end of the 2010 school year, I wanted to move closer to home in order to be more involved in my own children’s education. I had looked at possibly going to a new charter school in the area in order to bring my own children there, but contract negotiations broke down. I also looked to transfer to Ocoee HS, which was just 10 minutes from Apopka, but there was a blockbuster principal move that summer that sent the heart of Ocoee HS to University HS, and I really didn’t want to be there once Mr. Armbruster was moved. I must admit, that part of my died when Mr. Armbruster got moved from Ocoee HS…he had put so much into that school, and it just didn’t seem like the district understood or supported the great things that were going on there. And to think, he was asked to leave the school he loved, West Orange HS, to take on the challenge of opening a brand new school, and then they kicked him to the curb and made him travel across town. I’ll save that story for another blog. Part of the blockbuster principal move also brought Doug Guthrie to Apopka HS, which was my hometown. I had worked with Doug Guthrie at Boone HS and Apopka Memorial MS, so I approached him about transferring to Apopka HS and helping him build something new in our hometown. Not only would I be able to guide my own kids through Apopka HS, but I was also looking forward to working with the community that I called home. Many administrators don’t like to work in the same town where they live…they don’t want to run into their kids in the grocery store or at the movies. I’m not that way…in fact, I want to see the kids of my school around town. Here I was again, looking for learning opportunities at another school rather than looking for a Principal position. As I transitioned to Apopka HS, I was put in charge of many things that I had very little experience with, which stretched my leadership capacity. I could have stayed at Boone HS and been very comfortable doing things that I was comfortable with, but it takes risks and challenges to grow an individual’s character and capacity to lead. Doug and I were a great match for each other—the things that he was good at, I needed to learn. The things that he didn’t like doing, I had a special passion for. It was a perfect fit once again. The risk of changing schools paid off…Good is the enemy of great. You have to let go a good job in order to grab hold of a great job.
After three years working at Apopka HS, in which I was the API over the Student Services Department and the Guidance Counselors during the third year, I grew tired of the many changes that were coming down from Tallahassee. There were so many changes that were coming on a yearly basis that it was hard for my professional school counselors to stay on top of everything. At one point, we had a different graduation plan for each grad level—what classes and tests students had to pass in order to graduate. It was absolutely crazy. On top all that curricular chaos, the Marzano Teacher Evaluation system was beginning to spread its toxins throughout our school district. I was trying to give my teachers authentic teacher evaluations, and when an area superintendent questioned me as to why my teacher ratings were higher than other administrators at my school and across the district, I saw the writing on the wall once again. My passion for education was ebbing away. I lost faith in the system. I was done. It was during the summer months before the 2013 school year that I received a message that asked me if I was interested in becoming the District Athletic Director over all athletics and extracurricular activities for Orange County Public Schools. It was a lateral move for me because the position was actually an assistant principal on assignment. I had never thought about this position…I had just completed my Principal Internship and I received my Principal certification and I was ready to find a Principal job at a Middle School or High School somewhere, but I also knew that my passion for education was severely injured. At the time, I was asked to give the District a two-year commitment as the District Athletic Director, and then I would be given a High School Principal position. I didn’t really hold those extending such offers to the promises they were making—the way I figured it, if I wasn’t the best person for the position, I shouldn’t get the position…students and teachers deserve the best person available. I saw the District Athletic Director position as an opportunity to learn everything I could about athletic leadership and the extracurricular opportunities that our District offered. I figured that I could become the best principal around when it came to extracurricular management and leadership. I also saw this position as an opportunity to get to know the district office—the people and departments that support the schools in many different vital ways. On top of that, I also saw this move to the athletic world as an opportunity to get away from the Marzano system, because I wouldn’t have to evaluate any teachers while over athletics…I figured, to some extent, I would hide out until Marzano went away. Well, I was wrong…Marzano didn’t go away…it just became stronger. Anyways, I was never an athletic director at a high school, but I was a multi-sport coach…coaching three sports before I went into administration, so I brought a lot of sports leadership with me to the position. I didn’t completely understand what I would be doing as the District Athletic Director, but I had learned over the years that I can learn to do anything…I had been dropped into many different types of “jungle” settings, and I learned how to orient myself, survive, and then thrive. Good was the enemy of great, and I was ready to take another risk.
I enjoyed working as the District Athletic Director. I enjoyed working with the many high school and middle school athletic directors, athletic trainers, and coaches throughout our county. I also enjoyed working with the high school debate coaches and teachers, the JROTC instructors, elementary chess club sponsors, the Mayor Teresa Jacobs’ Youth Leadership conference, the OCBA Law Week committee, Rivalry Love Initiative, Make Smart Cool Initiative, Dr. Roger Dearing and the FHSAA, the many great County Athletic Directors around our state, and members of the Board for the City of Orlando After School All Stars program. I also enjoyed working with just about every department and floor at the Ronald Blocker Educational Leadership Center—Pupil Assignment, Human Resources, Video Services, ICTS, Facility Use Management, Magic Way, Planning and Governmental Relations, Employee Relations, Planning and Design, Minority Achievement Office, Risk Management, Certification, Wellness, Health Services, Environmental Compliance, Budget, Finance, Payroll, Professional Development, Fingerprinting, Procurement, Transportation, Grounds, STO and Parent Academy, ESE, Curriculum and Learning, Security, School Choice, Public Relations, Media Relations, Labor Relations, Legal Services, Title IX, Ethics Compliance, Legislative and Congressional Relations, and the School Board. I have worked with almost every department at the RBELC. I also worked with every school as I collected extracurricular activities information from all of our schools in order to make sure we were advertising all available options for students to become involved in their schools. I count myself extremely blessed to have spent two years at the District office learning all that can be learned about the people and departments that support the efforts of our District schools.
At the end of two years working at the District office, two high school positions opened up that I was very interested in—Boone HS and Jones HS. I believed at the time that I had made my peace with the Marzano Teacher Evaluation system, and I also figured that as a school principal I could navigate the nuances of the system and protect my employees from the destructive side effects of a micromanaging evaluation tool. I had many former employees at Boone HS that I had worked with that were begging me to apply for the Principal position at their school. I completed my two-year commitment over athletics, and after much contemplation, I notified my boss that I was going to apply for both high school principal positions. Good was the enemy of great…it was time for my ship to get out of the harbor…while it may be safe in the harbor, “that’s not what ships are for.”
I didn’t even receive an interview. The person that was now in charge of hiring new high school principals obviously had other individuals in mind. I was okay with that. I figured I would apply for something else. The following week, I was called to my office and informed that since I was applying for principal positions, the Deputy Superintendent had decided he wanted an Executive Area Administrator to be in charge of Athletics rather than a person on my level—an Assistant Principal on assignment. Suddenly, my position received about a $20,000 increase, only I was no longer in the position. I was a bit upset at first…I was planning on being in that position until I got a Principal position, but I certainly wasn’t in charge, and, at the end of the day, I work at the pleasure of the Superintendent. I should also add that I try to look at things from a God perspective, and that he is ultimately in control of my life, and he doesn’t get surprised by moves like this…He has a plan for my life, and I just need to trust that this whole situation is part of that plan. I wasn’t told where I was going to be placed, but upper management would figure it out as all the summer moves settled down. A Principal position opened up at Positive Pathways – the school where students who are expelled are sent for a time. I applied for the job and got an interview, but I got the feeling that I might have been too positive for Positive Pathways. I think they were looking for someone that could create a prison style environment that students wouldn’t want to be a part of. That wasn’t me. I wanted to create an environment that could transform the worst of students…those students from across the district that were committing the worst of offenses on all school campuses. If I could transform the lives of those students, I could truly transform the entire school district. I was somewhat getting excited about such an opportunity. I think those conducting the interview must have doubted my passion and ability. I often wonder if they still doubt it? Oh well, it wasn’t meant to be. God had bigger plans. But, that’s why I hate interviews and campaigning…it’s all talk, and even if you are capable of doing incredible things, it doesn’t matter…people won’t believe you.
Well, I didn’t know what to expect, and I didn’t know where I was going, but I was just going to trust God that He has a way of working everything out. I ended up getting transferred to the Westside campus of Orange Technical College as an Assistant Director—the school has had many names over the past few years—Westside Tech, and OCPS Tech Centers – Westside. I taught TV Production and Computer Applications, and I supervised a few Career Technical Educational programs when I was an Assistant Principal at Boone High School, but I had never worked at a Technical Center or College. This was all brand new to me. It was another opportunity to go from Good to Great…only this time, I didn’t have to let go off something I was holding onto, what I was holding onto was ripped out of my hands, and this job was then handed to me. As a person of faith, I can trust that it all works together for the good. My life isn’t my own; I gave my life to someone a bit bigger than all of my situations, and 30 years into this endeavor, He has proven Himself faithful over and over.
What I found at Orange Technical College was an incredible learning environment…almost like a different world. I felt like I had died and gone to “career heaven”. In all my 23 years in education, I had never experienced a learning environment like what I was encountering at Orange Technical College. We don’t have many discipline referrals at OTC. We don’t have lunch supervision duty or bus supervision duty. 99% of the students who attend OTC Westside are passionate about what they are doing and they don’t want anything messing up their dream of a successful career. The environment is one that is driven by passion—whether you are talking about a student with a 3rd grade reading level that has made the decision to come back to school to get their GED, or if you are talking about a Welding student who wants to get their certification and get a great career-in-a-year. The educational environment at OTC Westside is what teaching and learning is all about…passionate teachers imparting skills and knowledge to passionate students. Learning the CTE environment has truly been a blessing, and I am glad that what I was doing before was ripped out of my hands in order so that I was willing to take hold of the gem that CTE is becoming. I may not have made the leap to CTE on my own without a little push from the power that be. So, why would I want to leave?
While I love my new job, and I could sail into the sunset doing what I am currently doing, there’s a part of me that believes I’ve been uniquely prepared for something else. I know too many teachers and administrators throughout our District that are frustrated and at the end of their rope much like I was a few years back. Teachers are leaving education. Early retirements are at their highest level according to individuals that work in OCPS Retirement Services. College students are not going into education….down from 11% of college students to 4%. Teacher vacancies are on the rise, with many teaching positions filled by district staff to begin this school year. Teacher job fairs have become a common thing in our district, with the next one scheduled for September, so I have heard. Our county only produced 2.4% of highly effective teachers this past year. The current teacher evaluation system is demoralizing, and it is creating an “Us vs. Them” mentality at many different schools throughout our district. The poor evaluation system is one thing, the testing culture is a whole other problem altogether. Something has to change.
I looked at my experiences and it sure seemed like I might be the one to bring people together to form some consensus to turn this entire system upside-down. I asked God for a sign that I was supposed to do this—I would like to have rock-solid sign if I am going to take a 50% pay cut and give up the last five months of my life to enter into a process that I don’t particularly like. Well, God didn’t give me a sign. I waited some more…but still, no sign came. I felt like I was supposed to run, but I wanted to be sure. I talked to my mom about my dilemma. I asked for a sign and none was given. My mom said something to me that I am still trying to figure out. She said, “Matt, waiting for a sign was part of the Old Testament. The New Testament is about the Spirit of god dwelling in you and speaking to your heart and putting your faith in God.” “Wow!” is all I can say. She’s right. God likes people that are willing to take big risks…to trust Him with everything, throwing caution to the wind, living a life of complete surrender to His will. I can get excited about that. I am passionate about education and making a difference in the lives of students. I think God is passionate about it as well. One of the best ways you can love a child is by educating them well. I believe God looks down on society and he wants to help people—students, teachers, parents, administrators—he hears the cry for help. He hears the frustration and misery that people are experiencing. God wants to use people to fix the mess that we are in. He wants to help fix society—the crime, the unemployment, the fatherless generation, the corruption, racism, terrorism, poverty, addiction, and the violence—all of that stuff. He grieves at the current state of the world. He wants to help us fix this mess. I looked at the entire situation and I said…Good is the enemy of Great…it is time to let go once again.
God didn’t appear to me in a vision and tell me to run. I didn’t hear an audible voice speak to me in the night and say, “With this sign you shall conquer.” None of that happened. I don’t know if I am going to win. I just felt like I was in a position where I felt like I could help students and teachers. I felt like my skills, knowledge, and experiences could be beneficial on the School Board. I believe it is time for change…it is time for a new way of doing things…not just in our district, but also in our state, and in our nation. We must begin here at home, but the struggle that our students and teachers face is much bigger than just us. Now is the time.
I’ve got skin in the game. I have cast aside positions, paychecks, promotions and my administrative pension…I’m not even sure how all of that works…I know that if I win I have to take a leave of absence. It is a 50% pay cut…but if I can help bring about needed change that can truly change lives, it’s but a small price to pay. I will figure out a way to make up the difference. I’ve spent about 10 hours typing out my story…I’m not sure anyone will read it, but I had to get it off my chest and out of my head. My life belongs to God, and I don’t know what He has planned for the future, but I’ve learned to trust Him…even from those first days of reading about Job until now…Good is still the enemy of Great…and God has a great plan for our lives when we hand it over.