This month, A+ Education Partnership welcomed our newest team member and lifelong educator, Matt L. Smith, Ed.L.D. Matt has joined us shortly after finishing his Doctor of Education Leadership (Ed.L.D.) program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Prior to pursuing his doctorate, Matt served as a teacher, assistant principal, central office director, and principal in the public school system.
The addition of Matt’s leadership to our advocacy team brings a wealth of real-world experience and knowledge to our education policy work. His perspective as a lifelong educator will be invaluable as we develop and advocate for improvements in our education system. Most of all, Matt’s passion for building an equitable education system where every child is given the opportunity and support they need to succeed aligns with our mission. We look forward to working with Matt to create #GreatSchoolsForEveryChild.
A+ asked Matt to share a few thoughts as he enters this new role. Here’s what he had to say:
Question: Matt, for those who don’t know you, please tell us a little about yourself.
I come from a long, proud family of educators. I was born and raised just outside of Philadelphia, PA. I cultivated a love of learning early on while participating in science experiments with my grandfather, a career high school physics teacher. It was in these elementary years that I recognized the profound impact that educators have on students’ lives. My 5th grade teacher, Mr. Urlwiler, cultivated joy while simultaneously holding each student to high standards. He personalized learning before it was en vogue and helped each student find their unique voice. He could ften be found surreptitiously slipping on a pair of Groucho Marx style glasses to garner cheap laughs (and classroom community). During that school year, I found out my family would be moving to Metro Atlanta and I would be leaving all of my friends and family behind. I still remember sitting at my desk after school on the day before we moved, a tear streaming down my face. I felt a hand on my shoulder and noticed a pair of Groucho Marx glasses sitting on my desk. “Matt,” Mr. Urlwiler said, “take these glasses with you and make sure the world always sees you smile.” This small interaction was incredibly impactful, both in how I saw myself and how I felt about the future. In my career, I have been humbled by all of the micro moments I have witnessed in which a teacher has impacted a student’s life. Oh, and I still have the glasses!
After graduating from the University of Georgia, I began a 12 year education career with Clayton County Public Schools in Atlanta, GA. During this time I served as a high school AP US History teacher, a District Curriculum Director, Assistant Principal, and Middle School Principal. One of my proudest moments was supporting the founding of the first Dual Language Spanish Immersion program in our district. These years were some of the most important and impactful in my life. It was also during this time period that I married my college sweetheart, Bree, We started our family a few years later and are now blessed with two boys – Harrison, 7, and Parker, 4.
In 2017, I was admitted to the Doctor of Education Leadership (Ed.L.D.) program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. This doctoral program, which features courses taught by faculty from across the university (including the Harvard Business School and Harvard Kennedy School), uniquely prepares students for system level leadership. In the final year of the program, I had an opportunity to complete my residency with the Birmingham City Schools, serving as the Special Assistant to the Superintendent. I graduated in May 2020.
Question: Why at this point in your career have you decided to leave the public school system and take on this new public school support role as the Vice President of Policy at A+ Education Partnership?
My career has been spent serving students and families in public schools. I have continually sought ways to enhance my impact. During my time in Cambridge, I was exposed both theoretically and practically to the broader education landscape. In this exposure I learned about the critical role education policy plays in shaping our public schools. I believe it is a powerful lever to effect scaled positive change, ensuring great schools for every child, both in Alabama and nationally.
Question: How will your practical experience assist in your new position at A+?
I think it is critical to bring practical experience into the advocacy and policy arenas. A+ works in both the schoolhouse and the statehouse, which was a primary factor that drew me to the work of the organization. As we advocate for equitable outcomes for all of Alabama’s children, I plan to leverage my on-the-ground experience to ensure policy is being designed with teachers and students in mind.
Question: What is your vision for how A+ can support equitable outcomes for all students in the state of Alabama?
The COVID-19 pandemic has both shed light on and exacerbated educational inequities within our state. As we navigate this crisis, we must ground our work in equity. First, we must believe that all students can and will learn deeply when they are given high expectations in the classroom. We will strive to advocate for policies that support schools and educators with this goal in mind. Second, we must be data centered, highlighting urgent challenges and significant policy opportunities. Third, we must remain steadfastly student-focused. By grounding our advocacy in these principles, we can work alongside state policymakers to advance equity, raise academic achievement for all students, and bridge the opportunity gap.