When Matthew Boucher was the principal at Fridley Middle School, he had a “gnawing curiosity” about what was going on 3 miles north in Spring Lake Park Schools.
He saw educators asking, “Why do we have to do school the way it’s always been done?”
Boucher did not feel called to leave Fridley Middle School, but he was drawn to Spring Lake Park High School, and he began work as the principal of SLPHS July 1.
“I am so excited to have Matthew as part of the leadership team in Spring Lake Park,” Superintendent Jeff Ronneberg said. “He has been a successful school leaders with demonstrated success in capitalizing on the creativity and strengths of staff in creating the conditions for students to be successful. He has a strong history of effective communication and active engagement with students, families and the community. In the short time he has been with us, I have seen these leadership strengths in action. He has already been a great addition to the high school and district.”
Now in his 23rd year as an educator, Boucher never imagined he would choose to spend a lifetime in school. He didn’t enjoy it as a kid.
“I was the bane of several teachers’ existence throughout middle school and at least the first two years of high school,” he said.
He didn’t plan to be the first in his family to graduate from college, but “life flipped that switch and I realized I had to make changes when I saw the choices my friends were being presented with,” Boucher said. “Initially I was thinking accounting because math was generally my easiest subject matter.”
But a social studies teacher his junior year of high school inspired him to become a social studies educator instead.
“I remember the moment in class when I made the conscious decision,” he said.
He graduated from Minnesota State University Moorhead and began subbing before accepting a social studies position at Olson Middle School in Minneapolis.
The school was in the process of transitioning from a junior-high model to a middle-school model, and teachers looped with the same students in grade 6-8.
“We also did this really crazy thing where we had a two-period day, so we had middle-schoolers for 2 1/2 hours at a time. It was pretty intense,” Boucher said. “It formed who I was as an educator. It helped me understand early in my career that this task of leading human development is holistic and not content-driven.”
After six years at Olson, Boucher began work at Edison High School, also in Minneapolis.
They were teaming, looping and block scheduling, so it was another non-traditional environment.
“That experience only cemented or further amplified some of the philosophical underpinnings of this work for me,” Boucher said.
He had no ambition to leave the classroom.
“That’s where the magic happens in education, and that’s where I wanted to be,” Boucher said.
But administrators at Edison assigned him to coordinate the Quality Compensation Program, and another switch was flipped for Boucher.
“I saw a pathway to impact the school system for all kids and to do work that I thought was going to enhance our professional practice and be good for all kids more than just the kids that were on my roster,” he said.
He started as an intern assistant principal at Edison and then worked his way north up Highway 65.
He was an assistant principal at Fridley Middle School before becoming principal there in 2013.
“It was a powerful experience in that I went from a really large system to a geographic and psychological ‘small town,’” Boucher said. “It was wonderful learning. … I grew tremendously both as a person and as a professional.”
Moving farther north to Spring Lake Park High School is exciting for Boucher.
“We’re asking staff to live differently, to teach differently, to think differently about student thinking and then for students to do the same,” he said. “They’re game for it. They’ve embraced the challenge.”
Moving from the middle school to high school setting is not that big of an adjustment for Boucher.
“Kids are kids at the end of the day,” he said. “They get older, and they get cooler when they get older, but they’re still yearning to learn, to grow, to be ready for what comes next, and they’re still kind of anxious. Our job is to give them the skills and remediate that anxiety so that they feel confident when they leave us.”
Building relationships is essential, and the mission at the high school in 2017-2018 is to know each student by name, strength, interest and need.
With 1,600 students, there are “a lot of opportunities for anonymity to creep in,” and research shows that anonymity is a roadblock to learning, Boucher said. “If we’re going to challenge kids to take risks, we tend to only do that when we feel safe, and we tend to only feel safe when there’s people who care about us.”
Boucher’s limited free time is spent with his family – his wife; son, a sophomore at the University of Minnesota Duluth; and daughter, a junior at Anoka High School.
“They also affirm why I do this work,” he said. “I raised two children in the same environment with the same stimuli and same conditions, and in the end, I ended up with two very different people, two very different learners.”
Being physically active is a priority for Boucher, as is continuing his education. He is working toward his doctorate at the University of St. Thomas.
In addition to his career as an educator, Boucher served 12 years in the Army National Guard. He was deployed to work at the airport shortly after 9/11.
Boucher looks forward to challenging years ahead at Spring Lake Park High School.
“I’m not excited because I’m expecting it to be easy,” he said. “There are no easy jobs in education, and we do this work best when we do it together.”