Meet Dr. Irvin, WGHS Principal
New principal takes over at the High School this year
This year, Dr. Matthew R. Irvin took the helm at Webster Groves High School. He comes to Webster from Lafayette High School in the Rockwood School District, where he was the associate principal. He holds a doctoral degree in educational administration from Lindenwood University, a master’s from the University of Missouri-St. Louis and a bachelor’s from Missouri State University. We took some time recently to ask him a few questions.
Please tell us a little about yourself.
I started high school where I’m from in South Carolina, Summerville High School, for a year and then moved to St. Charles West High School for the remaining three years. Following that I went to college in Missouri. My wife and I have two children: Our son is a 15-year-old sophomore and our daughter is a sixth grader next year. We have a dog named Dabo, named after the Clemson University’s head football coach.
My hobbies are few and far between. I spend a lot of time with our children and I do like to read. Otherwise I don’t do too many things outside of my work. Books I’ve read recently include “Team of Teams,” another called “Unselfie,” on how to make children more empathetic. Most of my books do tend to run in the nonfiction realm, in that I’m a former history teacher.
What’s your favorite sport and team?
My favorite sport is college football. I played college football many years ago and I still have an affinity for it. My favorite team would probably be the Clemson Tigers. My parents are both graduates of Clemson and I was born in Anderson, S.C., nearby.
What attracted you to Webster Groves High School?
I think what makes it one of the premier schools in the area is that it is so firmly rooted within the community, being a one-high-school district, being one that has such history with multiple generations of families connected to the school and the area, as well as its traditions and excellence in the classroom and outside. Another piece of the attraction would be the students and adults I have the opportunity to work with and certainly my respect for Jon Clark and his leadership for this district and the building. He has set the table for what will hopefully come for our students.
What about your life and experiences would you like people here to know?
This is the sixth different high school I’ve worked in and I think that says two things. One, I’m clearly unable to hold a job (laughter) and secondly I’ve had the chance to see different incarnations of schooling, how different schools navigate all the issues to which they need to respond and for which they’re responsible. I think that’s been helpful and informative. I think that my experiences as a teacher in different departments, my time as an instructional coach, my time in coaching athletics, and different administration in different places has allowed me to see schooling take many forms. As a history teacher, I also have deep respect for historical practices and the cultures that different communities have, so I think that I hopefully bring a mixture of those two lenses.
Who or what most influenced you to become an educator?
My family has a number of educators, including my grandmother and mother, sister and some cousins, so I think that was the initial, nascent stage of that thinking. I had a very impactful high school football coach and English teacher. I recall the learning we did around “To Kill a Mockingbird” and all the different angles and approaches and thinking that can go on about that particular novel. I remember his role outside the school day and how important I thought that was.
In my professional life, I had the very good fortune to be mentored by my first department chair during my first five years teaching, an AP U.S. history teacher who shared his vision of what schools could be and his masterful teaching. He influenced a number of us, several of whom have been teachers of the year in the district where we worked and some of whom have gone on to become aspirational education leaders.
What’s your philosophy of leadership?
I think it’s varied. I’ve actually taught some courses on leadership and written some articles on it. I think that’s a topic that’s inherently interesting. I would say my philosophy of leadership is a shared process. Gary Wills’ book “Certain Trumpets: The Nature of Leadership” speaks of followers, leaders and shared goals and I think that it’s important to have congruence on shared goals for people who are working together, particularly in schools. You may not always agree on how best to approach a concern or issue in education but it’s not an adversarial construct.
We all have the long-term benefit of our students in mind when we’re doing our work.
What do you envision for our school?
I think we can become a leader, and be a city on a hill. I think we have a chance to grow in what we want for our students and how we prepare them. There are many things in place here in Webster Groves, from the Chelsea Center to our community supports to our facilities -- which we’ve had addressed here historically in the last ten years -- that allow us to launch our students and think about long-term 21st century learning opportunities.
High School Principal Matt Irvin chats with a student.