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Principal Focuses on What's Right

Forestville Elementary School’s new principal Matt Harris is a hands-on educator who hopes to spark a lifelong love of learning in the students and give parents and teachers an opportunity to drive changes at the school. With nearly three decades of experience, Harris has a clear vision of how to motivate and lead the academic community he’s stepped into.

“I’d like to think of this as an idea factory. Even if the idea doesn’t stick, there’s always another opportunity for it to work out next time,” said Harris. He took over for interim principal Dave Meadows in January and has already become a visible feature.

“He has lunch every day with the kids. The kids see him every day, which is great. He’s been wonderful to work with,” said Karen Daboll with the Forestville PTA.

As a parent to a 16 year-old and a 4-year-old, Harris is extremely comfortable around children and spends as much time with his students as he can.

Harris was previously with the Armstrong Center in Reston, where he applied his administrative skills to the special-education student body. Forestville is a feeder school for the Armstrong Center.

He said that experience at the Armstrong Center taught him to “have a positive regard for all children and their families. I have a great respect for the collaborative effort and approach each student from the individual perspective.”

Having been in the Northern Virginia public school system for so long, Harris finds himself working with other educators he’s known before. His assistant principal Sharamaine Williams summed up her feelings about Harris being at Forestville by saying, “I know how the Redskins felt when they got Joe Gibbs back.” She reports seeing more parents in the school than ever before and says the students “have been very receptive to him.”

Harris plans to lead his 841 students through example. “So much of being a principal is being a symbol of what’s good about learning,” said Harris.

“ANYTIME there’s change, people say, ‘Gosh, what’s coming,’ but here we are focusing on celebrating what’s right. We’ve brought the school culture into focus,” said Harris.

Focusing on what’s right has taken some unusual turns. Last month during a staff meeting, Harris tapped into the hidden talents of one of the custodial staff and had him perform the song “What a Wonderful Life” at the meeting.

Harris plans to similarly engage the talents of parents and educators in school life. “We have such a wonderful, strong parent-teacher community. Reaching out to them and involving them only enriches the children,” said Harris.

He similarly hopes to engage the business and medical community in the surrounding area. “My hope is to reach out in a systematic, focused way and involve them in our students’ learning. As we do that, there might be an opportunity for grade team leaders to get together and talk about learning opportunities,” said Harris.

As Harris works to create an atmosphere of learning and leadership, he is still able to dream about how it could be. “If I had a magic wand, it would be that all children are extremely successful in learning, that we meet and exceed the standard of No Child Left Behind, that the parents are happy and feel we meet or exceed the standards at private schools, and that the teachers are happy and pleased to be here,” Harris said.

He predicts that “we are just going to be a great learning community here at Forestville.”