Meshea Matthews began her tenure as St. John’s Episcopal School’s fifth Head of School in July of 2019. Get to know her in her own words.
Q: What attracted you to St. John’s?
A: Throughout my years at Hockaday, I worked directly with new students and saw certain qualities common among St. John’s graduates: strong character, adaptability and an age-appropriate maturity. I was drawn to the school to learn how they were co-raising children. I am proud to be joining a community that celebrates character, spiritual enrichment, and servant leadership as much as scholarship.
Q: What do you believe are the key attributes of great independent schools?
A: The most important quality is that your community–your faculty, staff, parents and students–are all aligned to the mission of your school. Schools create their own culture and the great schools ensure that students, families, faculty and staff know they belong in the community because it prepares to host and welcome them each day. From my first introduction to the community, I could see this dynamic faculty and staff were connected to the St. John’s mission.
Q: How does St. John’s mission tie in with your background?
A: The mission of the school and my mission in life are very similar. I believe that instilling the love of learning in children is essential to the foundation of an excellent education. While spending time in St. John’s classrooms, I have seen teachers engage their students and encourage their natural curiosity. Coupled with the experience of project-based learning exercises, students are prepared to think critically and to both challenge and collaborate within their community. I am an experiential learner–I am studious in preparation, attempt to live in the moment and then always try to reflect on the exercise. I need to see it, touch it, and feel it before I am able to think it, and St. John’s is giving that experience to our students. I am drawn to the opportunity to be in a space where chapel starts your day and where you can connect the dots between quiet reflection, kindness, compassion, grace and restoration. While all are important, grace and restoration are particularly important to me. Many of my most treasured memories with students have been in the moments between mistakes and restoration. There is something incredibly powerful about teaching grace to a child and imagining how that experience will be paid forward.
Q: How will your strengths as a leader help advance the school?
A: Families today have many options, and what I have observed is that they are looking for a community to join. Building community and gathering people for a common purpose has been one of my primary goals throughout my career. There are a multitude of resources to communicate with an audience today. As a former journalist, I look forward to an outward-facing role and increasing our profile as we tell the St. John’s story. We are more than just an East Dallas school; we are providing a transformative education, and we want to be known and celebrated for making a difference across many ZIP codes. While the majority of my professional life has been in education, I began my career in the media, and have most recently worked with my husband, Timm, on a new business venture. My nontraditional path to headship will bring a unique perspective and “outside the box” view of the business of education at St. John’s. We will strive to set the trends, not follow them. As a former college basketball player and varsity coach, I value the opportunity to build and work with a team. I look forward to collaborating with the talented team at St. John’s.
Q: Who are you outside of St. John’s?
A: I am a friend, daughter, sister, aunt, stepmom and wife. I feel incredibly fortunate to share my life with my husband Timm, my two amazing stepchildren, Taylor (31) and Logan (28), and our extended families, many of whom live in the Dallas area. I love to travel! When we visit a new city, we immerse ourselves and try to live like locals. Meeting new people and learning about their lives is important to us. Sports continue to be a joy in my life, and I love to play a pickup basketball game whenever I can (I cannot wait to play with the students) and follow our favorite teams. We host a weekly “Sunday Night Dinner” for our extended family and friends and attempt to recreate for the youngest generation what we had around the dinner table with our parents. It’s a great way to ground us, hear what happened in everyone’s lives from the week before and encourage each other for the upcoming week. Without a doubt, it is my favorite time of the week.
Q: What qualities do you value in leaders?
A: I am most attracted to the leaders who didn’t set out on a path to become a title but became a leader because it’s what they felt called to do, and then earned a title. I find inspiration from leaders who:
• Encourage dialogue, listen and then lead with intention
• Inspire and promote others
• Focus the community on gratitude and joy in each experience
• Give grace when there are challenges
• Are accountable and hold others accountable
Q: What’s the best advice you have received about your new role?
A: I am so fortunate to have a deep bench of veteran educators to turn to for counsel, but I think the best advice I have received has been from the St. John’s students during my spring campus visits. I asked them what is important to them about the Head of School, and in such wise and age-appropriate ways, I received this advice: “Be kind. Stay away from the creek. And be there for us.” Goals for a lifetime!