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UT's Wright ready to tackle toughest job yet

United Township high school new principal Matt Wright.

EAST MOLINE — Boxes lay on the floor in Mathew Wright's office at United Township High School.

Bare walls beg to hold pictures and certificates. Bookshelves are empty.

As the school's new principal, he's had little time to get unpacked since starting his job July 1.

"I had to hit the ground running," Mr. Wright said. "I'm trying to become more of an early-early morning person. I want to be here super early to be sure I get everything knocked out. Last week I was in here by 6 a.m. a couple times."

Mr. Wright had a quick month to prepare before school started Aug. 3. He took over for Carl Johnson, who was named superintendent of the Colona School District. 

His office isn't the only unpacking that's kept him busy. On June 23, he and his family moved from the Peoria area to a house in East Moline.

Mr. Wright was dean of students at East Peoria High School for six years and coached basketball. Prior to that, he taught seventh-grade math and pre-algebra at Morton High School for six years. 

The Bradley University graduate has a bachelor's degree in mathematics education and additional certification in language arts, with an emphasis on kindergarten through ninth grade. He earned a degree as an education specialist from Illinois State University in Normal and further specialist degrees in education technology from American College of Education and school leadership from Olivet Nazarene in Bourbonnais. 

Mr. Wright said he became familiar with the UTHS campus when he attended a football game last fall and took notice when the position of principal was posted in January.

"I did a little more research into the school and what we offered and that's what drew me to apply," he said. "I have a lot of experiences from my previous boss that will hopefully help with the learning curve here. That's my career so far in education."

Mr. Wright said he's happy he took the job.

"I love it, it's great!" he said. "The amount of offerings we (UTHS) have for our students to be college and career-ready is unbelievable. We offer credit recovery for students that are having academic problems, and English Language Learner programs, native French, native Spanish, all the way to AP dual-credit classes, and the iJAG (Iowa's Jobs for America's Graduates) program.

"Their willingness to be student-centered has been awesome so far," he said of the district. "It's been great to get to know everybody."

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Mr. Wright said one challenge he expects is learning the district's budget process. He also wants to take time to know the staff on a personal level.

It will be the largest number of staff that has reported to him -- two assistant principals, two deans, a curriculum director and about 100 teachers and staff. That compares to the 10 staff members he supervised at East Peoria High School.

"Everybody has been so helpful about upcoming events and if they can help with that process," he said. "Everybody has been super supportive."

UTHS also will be the largest school where Mr. Wright has worked, with about 1,650 students compared to about 1,000 at East Peoria High School.

"The demographics are similar, but there is more diversity here," he said. "That's something that drew me to the area as well.

"My wife is from (near) Schaumberg, with a more diverse population, and that was a deciding factor for us," he said. "That's something we believe is important for us and our kids."

Mr. Wright said he met his wife, Jen, at Bradley University. The couple has three children, two girls and one boy; 5, 3, and 18 months. 

Mr. Wright said he looks forward to working with UT superintendent Jay Morrow, calling him a great mentor.

"That was also a big draw during the interview process," Mr. Wright said. "He's very intelligent. He has been very available to bounce ideas off of.

"I hope what people will find out about me is that we've built the relationship ahead of time to get through all the tough situations we're going to face together," he said. "That's my hope, and why I want to be out and about so much."

Mr. Wright said he'll miss coaching basketball, but his new role will demand his full attention.

"I've got to focus on the full school," he said. "We've got really great coaches for our basketball programs.

"I'm very excited about the opportunity to help our staff achieve everything we can with our students," he said. "It's been a great experience and everyone is super helpful. I'm ecstatic to be here."

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