October marks National Principals Month, and we want to honor the 76 principals we have in Arlington ISD who work hard in our vision of making the Arlington ISD a premier school district and leader of education.
One of the reasons Arlington ISD is a premier district is the specialized programs we offer. Dr. Matthew Varnell has been an integral part of developing and pioneering Arlington ISD’s fine arts/dual language academies. He was the first principal of Corey Academy of Fine Arts and Dual Language. Now, he has moved on to become the principal of Gunn Junior High and Fine Arts and Dual Language Academy, home of the district’s first junior high fine arts/dual language program. As we highlight principals this month, let’s learn more about this district pioneer.
1) What was your childhood aspiration, and how does it align with your current position as a principal?
As a kid, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do when I got older. When I got to seventh grade, I started to play in the band. I loved playing the trumpet and I was pretty good at it. I was a student at Shackelford Junior High and my band director was Marty Nelson. I worked hard, practiced a lot and kept improving. When I got to Lamar High School, band had helped me come out of my shell and find my place. Even better, I found the jazz band. I loved jazz (still do!). It is about creativity and working together to make one common sound.
After teaching band for several years and being a principal at two other schools, I can say that being a principal has a lot in common with jazz. You have to know the expectations, be creative and work together so that the whole campus belongs. Creativity and interdependence ensure that everyone belongs.
2) What is the most fulfilling part of everyday or every year for you?
Nothing makes me happier than seeing students accomplish something they didn’t think they could. Whether it is scoring a goal in the game, finishing a novel, passing the science test or speaking in front of the class, that moment when one of my students reaches that accomplishment is worth all of the hard work.
3) What is your favorite memory as a principal so far?
There are so many. The hours are long and the work is hard. But, every time a student lets me know that I made an impact and every time a teacher lets me know that they appreciate my support, my tank is refilled. I get to have favorite moments all the time.
4) Who was your favorite childhood principal, and what did you learn from them?
Doug Bradham was my principal when I was a student a Pope Elementary. Every week we would have Bradham Day, which was a one-hour reward time with races and games. We loved Bradham Day. Mr. Bradham knew us by name. There is something special about being called by name by the principal. It made me feel like he knew me and cared about me. I’ll probably never reach his ability, but I strive to know my students by name so that they know that I care about them. Every student matters.
5) What legacy would you like to leave behind? How would you like to be remembered?
I want teachers to say that he challenged us to think about the different ways that students can be great: academically, artistically, athletically, interpersonally, etc. I want teachers to say he expected a lot from us, but he was willing to work right beside us every day. I want students to say that he knew who I was, he cared about who I would become, and he taught me to be the best version of myself that I could be.