OLD SOUTHWEST: Smooth transition for Grant Elementary School's new principal

Friday, September 16, 2011 | 5:17 p.m. CDT; updated 10:15 p.m. CDT, Monday, September 19, 2011
Principal Kristin Matthews, right, talks with third grader Amareon Hickem, left, in her office at Grant Elementary School on Friday. This is Matthews' first year as principal at Grant Elementary.

COLUMBIA — Kristin Matthews, the new principal of Grant Elementary School, starts her work day at 8:20 a.m.

She stands on the curb in front of the school, helping children get out of their cars, and greeting each of them and their parents.


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School starts at 8:30 a.m. Matthews heads back to her office to prepare her daily announcements. On this particular day in early September, she focused on the learning skills she wanted children to think about.

After that, her goal was to visit as many classrooms as possible. "Getting to know the students as learners" is what she said she tries to achieve.

This year, Matthews replaced long-time principal Beverly Borduin, who retired in June.

Previously assistant principal at Alpha Hart Lewis Elementary School, Matthews said she plans to retain the rich learning environment already in place at Grant.

"I have no plans to make any big changes at Grant Elementary School," Matthews said. "It's an exceptional school with a lot of tradition."

That includes Grant's annual blues residency at Roots 'N' Blues 'N' BBQ; its multicultural potluck in the fall; and its commitment to giving students a safe place to support their education.

The contrast in population between Grant and Matthews' previous school Alpha Hart Lewis is striking.

Lewis had close to 800 students; Grant has 300. It’s a closer community at Grant, Matthews said, but it also has a smaller staff.

"People's jobs are a little bit more flexible because everyone needs to lend a hand in order for the school to run smoothly," she said.

Even though Matthews does not intend to make any big changes in the school, she is slowly making her mark.

During the lunch hour, she works to keep children calm and orderly in the cafeteria. She has introduced baskets for tableware, such as straws, forks and napkins, to promote this peaceful environment.

Matthews prefers to teach them what to do rather than helping them directly.

"It is important for the students to learn to sit in a crowd and be together with one another," she said.

She is also flexible on the nuts and bolts of managing an elementary school.

In response to the summer heatwave this year, she postponed the multicultural potluck supper and combined it with back-to-school night Sept. 13.

Although it's still the first month of school, and everything is still not quite on track, the staff says Matthews has made a strong start.

"It has been a smooth transition," said Bonnie Caldwell, secretary to the principal and a member of the Grant staff for 12 years. "Mrs. Borduin did a good job leaving notes and making arrangements, and Dr. Matthews is very good at picking up what was left off for her."

"I notice that she is working hard on knowing more about the kids and families here and trying to make connections with each of them now," said Kate Weir, the school counselor.

Matthews, originally from St. Joseph, began her career in Savannah, and taught elementary school for 13 years in various schools. She received a doctorate from MU in educational leadership and policy analysis, which gave her the opportunity to travel around the state and work in a number of schools.

Although her days are busy, Matthews said she tries hard to spend time with her family. She has two children: Brooke, a freshman at Jefferson Junior High School, who is active in theater and singing, and Zach, an eighth-grader there, who enjoys sports.

Matthews said she tries to squeeze time into her schedule to support their activities and to walk the family's yellow Labrador, Lucy, at the Twin Lakes dog park once a day.

She also likes to read. Pausing to continue other interests, Matthews laughed and said: "This is really what I have time to do right now."

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