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After Taking a Left Turn, He Found His Right Calling

Meet Your Principal: Justin Mathes


Justin Mathes began in education by tutoring youth at various schools, now the new Valleywood Middle School Principal.

What and where was your previous job? I was middle-school assistant principal at Knapp Charter Academy.

Degrees: I have a bachelor of arts in elementary education and master’s in educational leadership from Grand Valley State University.

Other positions you have held in education: I taught sixth grade (all subjects), seventh- and eighth-grade history, and was middle-school assistant principal at Ridge Park Charter Academy.

How about jobs outside education? I worked retail at MC Sports.

New Valleywood Principal Justin Mathes looks for good teen-level books

Besides getting to know the staff and families, what are you most looking forward to as principal here?  I look forward to working with the staff on growth and proficiency for our students and working to increase parental involvement to take advantage of parents’ skills. A lot of parents have skills I don’t have and I’d love to get them into the building!

What kind of kid were you at the age of students at this new school? I was very quiet. I rarely did homework. I didn’t really participate in school much. I attended because it was compulsory. I probably missed over 100 days during my high-school career. Once I got a car, it was easy to turn left instead of right (the opposite direction of school). It was shocking to people who knew me to learn I was going into education, and it still is shocking to them to know I am leading a building!

So, what led you to go from not liking school to becoming an educator? I went to college at Iowa State University for three weeks, attended zero classes, and my mom pulled me out. I got a job in retail, but realized that wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life. The person who is now my wife encouraged me to volunteer, tutoring youth at various schools. That led me to go into education.

I fell in love with middle school! I think it’s that the fact that I didn’t love school and I can talk to them about that. I want to intervene before they get to that point of missing 100 days of school and withdrawing from high school.

Spouse: Tricia Mathes, assistant principal for Grand Rapids Public Museum School

New Valleywood Principal Justin Mathes finds Stargirl, a favorite book, on the media center shelves

Hobbies/Interests: Traveling and reading. My wife and I have the exact same job schedule, which allows us to take some lengthy trips. Favorite trips are anywhere I’ve been to in Mexico, including Huatulco and Puerto Vallarta.

I read primarily young adult fiction so I can keep up with what the kids are reading, and horror.

What inspires you, both in your educational role and in your own life? It’s working with kids. All of the paperwork will be here after the kids leave. I want to be in classrooms, in the hallway, in the cafeteria, talking with them. If I wanted to do paperwork I would have gone into accounting.

What makes you laugh (we bet you’ll say kids – what else?) Middle school humor. My wife would say I haven’t grown up past age 13 or 14. That’s why I get along with the kids so well.

What would people be surprised to learn about you?  I really disliked school and I had no idea I would be in charge of one 23 years later.

Tell us about a non-professional book you recommend and why: Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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