School leader to retire

Published 11:38 am Monday, March 19, 2012

JACKSON — After more than three decades in education Phil Matthews intends to retire from his role as assistant superintendent of Northampton County Schools.

The Conway native, who was born, raised and educated in Northampton County, will say goodbye to the everyday grind, but with a long and successful 36 year career at NCS, his passion for education is still intact.

Matthews’ career enabled him to be involved in every aspect of the education system—from the classroom to the ball fields to the principal’s chair to assistant superintendent—Matthews has pretty much done it all.

“I’ll miss the people and being of service to the students and being able to contribute,” he said.

During his time at Northampton County High School-East, Matthews said he enjoyed football and other sports. With graduation, he found himself longing for those times on the fields.

“I missed the football, I missed the sports,” he said. “I wanted to coach football.”

Matthews realized in order to obtain that dream he would have to be a teacher. So he went back to school and earned a degree in health and physical education.

He got a job at Rich Square Middle School as a mathematics teacher.

“But I was kind of hired as the coach and athletic director of the middle school and I coached the varsity football program at W.S. Creecy (High School),” he said. “We had a really good year that year, a better year than they typically had. …We won the Conference Championship that first year.”

His first teaching job introduced him to educator Freddie Carroll, who became a mentor for Matthews.

In addition to his work as a teacher and coach, Matthews also worked as an electric contractor during the summers. Matthews said it was a way to supplement his teacher’s pay and begin to save for his children’s college education. His wife is Mary Matthews also taught for the school system and is now retired.

After two years, Rich Square Middle School was closed and Matthews decided to transfer to Conway Middle School with his mentor Carroll.

At Conway, Matthews was athletic director and coach for every sport there was to coach.

“I think I had a real good coaching career,” he said. “I only had one losing season in 11 years. I won probably about eight championships in 11 years and had three undefeated seasons.”

Matthews said that time in his career was probably the most rewarding time because of the interaction with his students and seeing the fruits of that labor.

“I was doing what I wanted to do, what I liked to do,” he said. “I was working with the students, the interaction with the students, the teaching, seeing the growth of the students—the same things that makes teaching rewarding.”

Carroll, who was principal of Conway, gave Matthews a wake-up call. He adamantly told Matthews for two or three years that he needed to go back to school and earn his master’s degree in administration. Matthews insisted to Carroll that, between teaching and coaching, he just didn’t have the time.

Carroll soon told Matthews he was taking a job in Wayne County. He suggested Matthews as his replacement to the current superintendent, but Matthews’ lack of a master’s degree kept him from obtaining the position.

“He said, ‘You see I told you, you should have went back to school and got your master’s degree’,” Matthews recalled. “That was on Monday morning, that Wednesday of that same week I was at East Carolina (University) taking the Miller Analogies Test (MAT) to get into graduate school. It’s just nothing like that experience of having someone like Freddie Carroll sitting there and pointing that finger in your face and say, ‘See I told you so’.”

Matthews was accepted into graduate school. After he received his master’s degree, Matthews applied for a principal position at Woodland Olney Elementary School but was not selected for the job. Another opportunity for an administration position arose when three assistant principal positions came open in the district. Matthews became assistant principal at Northampton County High School-East.

When the principal position at Woodland again opened up, Matthews was offered the role.

“It was a good experience for me because it was Pre-K through six grade,” he said of his three year stint at the school.

His career in the school system has taken him all over the county. After Woodland Olney closed he was transferred to Gaston Middle School where he served as principal. He returned to Conway Middle again as a principal.

“I had worked with every grade from Pre-K to 12th grade as an administrator,” he said.

Each school Matthews served as principal at student achievement went up, success he was recognized for.

From there Matthews became the head of the Maintenance and Transportation Department at the Central Services Office in Jackson, Executive Director of Auxiliary Services and Assistant Superintendent followed.

In the day-to-day operations of NCS, Matthews said he does what needs to be done, essentially what an assistant superintendent does.

Working at Central Services Matthews said he enjoys his current job, but misses that connection he had with the students while working at the school level.

“Losing that connection and relationship with the students, that’s one of those things you lose along the way that is a positive. I miss that work,” he said. “I think what I do here has a direct effect on the students’ lives out in the schools even though I don’t know who they are, they don’t know who I am. But I know when they walk across that stage to graduate and get that diploma, I know that the things I have done has contributed for them being successful enough to do that.”

As for retirement, Matthews has many plans laid out.

“I have two grandsons, I have a motorcycle,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to go across country and see the United States.”

Matthews added he still does electrical work from time to time and has a workshop out back filled with projects yet to be completed.

As for the future of Northampton County Schools, Matthews said he hopes the school district will have the capacity to unify, grow and develop as well as receive the reputation it deserves.

“It is often undersold,” he said. “My kids went through this school system and did well, there are numerous kids that go through this school system every year and do very well.”

He added the small percentages of negatives in the school district tend to get magnified.

“I would like to see more support from the people that the school system supports,” he said. “The school system supports the citizenry, the students and families of Northampton County tremendously.”