During Matt Birdsley’s high school days in Fulton, Ill., he took advantage of – and thoroughly enjoyed – service-learning opportunities that allowed him to work with elementary school students.
Those positive interactions led Birdsley to the NIU College of Education, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education in 2003. After teaching middle school math in DeKalb, he found a lifelong home in the Sterling Public Schools.
Graduate studies to earn his principal credentials eventually moved him from the classroom to the front office, where he has spent the last eight years, five of those at Challand Middle School.
Now, as Birdsley nears completion of his Ed.S. degree in the NIU Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations, he is being promoted July 1 to director of Curriculum and Instruction in Sterling.
“I make sure that the curriculum is aligned to the standards,” says Birdsley, who expects to finish his program this summer. “I’m also looking at the assessment programs we have – the teacher evaluations, the school improvement process – and leading the school and district improvement efforts.”
He believes the NIU coursework is preparing him well for his new role: “I’ve loved the program. It’s challenged me to grow in certain areas, and it’s given me some real, practical strategies to use to fine-tune my leadership.”
Birdsley credits Clinical Assistant Professor Danny Oest, who served as a public school superintendent in Illinois for 21 years, for many of those tabletop exercises in working with elected school board members “and the unique relationships you have with seven bosses in leading them, guiding them and dealing with their different personalities.”
“Dr. Oest has done a great job of bringing in real-life scenarios and challenged our thinking in a safe environment where our jobs aren’t on the line,” Birdsley says. “It was all practical, and it was all from his experience. The class really helped me gain that perspective.”
Birdsley understands that anticipation, as well as the deep sense of gratitude that comes with it.
He enrolled in the Ed.S. cohort on the prompting of Sterling Superintendent Tad Everett, he says, “stretching my comfort zone and stepping into something that encourage me to think outside the box. It will challenge me to grow.”
And before he completes his degree or starts his new job, he’s already accomplished something noteworthy through one of his 10 internship-related projects.
Thanks to his community outreach efforts, he has partnered with a local hospital and the county health department to develop and establish a school-based clinic to provide physical and behavioral services to students “right in our building, rather than parents having to take off from work and take their kids out of school.”
While the concept is “still in the planning stages,” he is optimistic that the first location will open in the fall.
Fall also will bring the biggest change, of course.
“I will miss my daily interactions with kids,” Birdsley says. “I won’t be assigned to a building, but I hope to be in the buildings a lot. I just won’t have that same interaction.”