Some miscellaneous tidbits about the life and work of Matthew Utterback, who was named 2017 National Superintendent of the Year on March 2 at AASA’s National Conference on Education in New Orleans.
All in the Family
Matt Utterback’s family has deep roots in Oregon – and in education.
His father was a teacher and counselor at Newport High School, which Utterback attended on the north-central coast. Before that, his grandfather was assistant principal at the school. And his great-great-grandfather, who came out to Oregon on the Oregon Trail, also worked as an educator.
“I actually have his original teaching certificate, which is a hand-written certificate that has him able to teach most subjects in the Oregon territories,” Utterback says.
He adds: “We come from a family of educators. You wouldn’t think there was DNA there, but there might be something.”
His wife Nancy has been a high school English teacher for 28 years in North Clackamas Schools.
Where the Heart Is
Utterback is no stranger to travel – he has been through Europe and journeyed to Central America, for instance – but, as he happily acknowledges, he always ends up in the same place.
The superintendent grew up in northwest Oregon and has lived and worked within a 150-mile radius his whole life.
“It’s beautiful out here,” he says. “I’ve traveled a lot of places, and every time you come and land in Portland on that airplane it always feels good to be home.”
He says he believes his deep love for the area clearly helps him build trust with the school community that he has served for his entire career.
“I’m a person who is really incredibly loyal and I’m really committed to our community and our school system,” he says. “They know that I’m not going anywhere and they know that I have their back and they know that I’m working hard for them.”
What books can be found at the bedside of the newest National Superintendent of the Year?
These were among the titles Utterback listed when asked a couple of weeks before the national conference: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates; And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hoseini; and Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan.
Keeping Ahead of the Pack
Most superintendents get up early, and it’s not unheard-of for some of them to go for a run at the crack of dawn – or before.
Utterback does just that, waking up at 5 a.m. four or five times a week for a 3- to 6-mile run. On weekends, when he’s training for a long race, he’ll do up to 12 miles.
“That’s my time, and it’s time that I relish,” he says. “I can do my thinking and processing without being interrupted.”
He has run three marathons but favors half-marathons, which are kinder to his 49-year-old body.
The race he really loves is the one he does with a 12-person team of co-workers every August. The team runs the Hood-to-Coast Relay, a 199-mile race that starts 6,000 feet up Mt. Hood and ends on the Pacific Coast. Each runner completes three legs and runs a total of 15 to 18 miles.
“It’s always at the end of the summer, it’s always great weather and it’s always right before the school year starts, so it’s always a good experience,” he says.
How do you know the meticulously drawn-up strategic plan for your district is working?
Utterback says North Clackamas monitors the success of its plan by focusing on six “key performance indicators.”
They are: Kindergarten Academic Readiness; Third Graders Reading at or Above Grade Level; Eighth-Graders Being Algebra Ready; Tenth-Graders on Track with Six Credits; 12th-Graders Graduating from High School; and Graduates Enrolled in Post-Secondary Education.
Those indicators, he says, help maintain the plan as a “living document.”
“When you can begin to push out some of the noise, some of the distractions that happen in a school system, and really just try to focus and narrow attention on a few or a handful of key strategic priorities,” he says, “I think some pretty great things will happen.”
A 20-20 Lens on Equity
What does Utterback consider the greatest influence on his career? A professional development event.
“In 2009, following a weeklong Coaching for Educational Equity retreat, I began to look at my own white racial identity through a lens of equity,” he says. “I carry with me a responsibility and a moral obligation that a student’s gender, skin color, home language and parents’ income level cannot be a predictor of who graduates.”
Just the Facts
A statistical picture of the North Clackamas Schools, led by Utterback: 17,325 students (sixth largest district in Oregon), 32 schools, 45 percent qualify for federal lunch program, 33 percent are students of color, 11 percent are English language learners, 1,800 district employees.
(Compiled by Paul Riede and Jay P. Goldman)