By Callie Hietala
Matthew Woods, director of Student Support Services for Henry County Schools, was recently named an Emerging Leader by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), a national leader in K-12 educator professional learning.
ASCD’s Emerging Leaders program is a two-year cohort-based program designed to cultivate and develop rising leaders in education. This year’s cohort consists of 24 people, including educators from 12 states, the United Kingdom, Singapore, and India.
Woods said he is honored to represent the county and Southwest Virginia in this international group of educators.
“There’s a lot of amazing folks on (the list) that I’m very familiar with doing some amazing work. It was an honor to be included,” he said, adding it also is “an honor representing Henry County and the great stuff we do here, because we have an amazing community and an amazing school system.”
Woods is particularly excited about the networking and learning opportunities the program will offer. “There are some folks that I know who have been Emerging Leaders that I really look up to, that I read about and follow their work,” he said, adding that the opportunity to connect with some of those people will, he hopes, help him bring new opportunities and ideas to the county.
A native of Franklin County, Woods completed his undergraduate degree at Ferrum College and started his career in education at Bassett High School, where he taught World History II and a section of a criminal justice class. Eventually, he turned to the administrative side of educating, moving from Roanoke to Georgia and back before landing in his current position in Henry County which, he said, feels like a second home.
Woods said he has experienced a lot of positives in his career, “but overwhelmingly they’ve all been associated with Henry County, so it’s just a testament to the great school system that we have here and the great leadership we have here to guide folks like myself.”
He noted that Henry County Schools Superintendent Sandy Strayer and the county’s school board have empowered him and his colleagues to succeed.
“A lot of the leadership tenants I get, I really attribute to the mentors I have here, starting with Mrs. Strayer, starting with our amazing school board members who give us all guidance and empower us to do the work that we do for our young people,” he said.
The effects of that leadership extend throughout the school system.
“From top to bottom, I have never been around a staff member here that I didn’t think didn’t have the best interest of the students first,” he said, from custodians to cafeteria staff, teachers to administrators, Woods said everyone puts students first.
He wears many hats in his current post, which he describes his job as a sort of jack-of-all-trades within the school system. His many responsibilities include providing support to school counsellors, functions as a truancy officer, oversees alternative programs to ensure resources and supports are in place for students transitioning back into their schools, and helping with disciplinary issues, particularly when administrators run into problems they don’t normally encounter.
During his time working as a teacher at Bassett High School, Woods said ASCD “was one of those go-to resources to look at best practices, to look at innovative educators, leaders across the country and across the world” to borrow different ideas to bring into his classroom and later into his practices and thinking as an administrator.
“Nurturing and promoting great education leaders is at the heart of our mission,” said ASCD CEO and Executive Director Ranjit Sidhu. “The Emerging Leaders program represents a growing cohort of leaders from around the globe who will serve as a guiding force in districts and schools for years to come.”
Woods believes in the value of the ASCD philosophy and the role it plays in inspiring not only the educators who participate in the program, but, by association, the students in the systems those educators serve.
“We (as educators) expose young people to different things, different opportunities,” Woods said, “and it sparks curiosity, it sparks thinking outside the box … Even as educators, sometimes we have to condition ourselves to do that … to continue to be curious. We teach our students, but we have to live those same tenants.”
Woods’ enthusiasm for his work, his school system, and his students shone bright and clear throughout his interview with the Enterprise. This Emerging Leader of today is eager to help Henry County students along their path toward becoming the emerging leaders of tomorrow.