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How Applying Real-life Educational Experience Led One NHA Leader to Success Within his Ohio Schools

NHA Communications Team  |  April 01, 2020
This is our third installment in the “What is a DSQ?” blog series.
Applying lessons learned early in life through athletics in high school and college, Matt Carlton, director of school quality (DSQ) at National Heritage Academies (NHA), aims to level the playing field for students through strong leadership to create opportunities for success.
Carlton began his career teaching in California after receiving his bachelor’s degree in government from Claremont McKenna College. During his first year of teaching, he reflected that it was a whirlwind learning experience. “I just tried to be a sponge and learn as much as I could,” he said.
Along the way, he faced struggles that led him to consider walking away from the field, until he had a lightbulb moment where things began to click. With help from other veteran teachers who took him under their wings, and shared advice and pieces of curriculum, he began to build momentum and decided to stick it out. “There were people who looked out for me and put out a hand at different times, and those things matter.”
Looking back at his first year in the classroom, Carlton shared that things have changed since then, explaining that teachers at NHA are much more prepared and are given the proper tools to be successful. “Back then, it was sink or swim, and I had to swim. I know what our teachers are going through. It has been years since I was in the classroom, but I can relate to their needs.”
Later on in his career, Carlton became the principal of two schools at one time due to budget cuts in his district. It was during this challenging time that a position became available at NHA, which caught his attention. He applied for the role and, within 10 minutes, received a phone call for the interview that would change his career path.
Shortly after, Carlton began his career at NHA, serving as principal of Landmark Academy in Colorado, where he stayed for six years. After several years in that role, he changed directions to his current role, serving as a DSQ overseeing seven schools across Ohio, which he has been doing for four years. In a typical week, he shared that he aims to visit three of his schools to spend time in the classrooms with teachers and other school leaders.
“My job is to help the school move forward through the principal,” he said. He works to navigate his school leaders’ various needs and to pull their levers appropriately. Whether that is through staffing changes or providing curricular tools or professional development, he works to determine the principal’s needs and provide the necessary support to allow them to perform at their full capacity.
He shared that in most cases, it is as simple as the school leaders needing additional resources and helping them get those resources. “We are always trying to figure out the school’s long-term goals and how to achieve them, and, at the same time, fight off all the things that are a distraction, the day-to-day things that can stop the progress of the school.”
Carlton shared that in recent months, other school leaders have reached out requesting advice inquiring about the positive results that the Ohio schools have experienced over the past year, asking: “What did you do? How did you get there?”
He chuckled and shared that “there is not a silver bullet, and there never is. There are 100 different micro-decisions every day that we make to tweak this or that. Whether it is a staffing change or curricular modification, there are many things that we are trying to do to ensure we are making the right adjustments to make it work.”
Diving deeper, Carlton shared that early on, there was a lack of consistency between the Ohio schools. There were common curricular tools, but it was how those tools were implemented that was inconsistent. These issues were also driven by a high level of teacher turnover. Carlton and his school leaders partnered with the Curriculum and Instruction (C&I) team at NHA to tackle the reality of the teacher shortage to become good at getting teachers “better fast.”
“The second piece of the equation is identifying the right leaders, what their needs are, and having the right system in place to drive their success. Bringing these two pieces together was a major changing factor.”
Overall, the DSQ role is often very challenging and, at the same time, rewarding. Carlton expressed that kids keep him motivated to continue moving forward each day.
“Kids and their families put their trust in us to provide kids an opportunity. To me, education is the great equalizer when it comes to the kids’ ability to compete on a global scale. To be able to read and write with their peers, if you can do those things, you have a chance.”
Stay tuned on April 15 for the next installment of our DSQ blog series when we introduce you to Zack Perfitt, a DSQ who is fueled by serving others.