Bell dedicated to serving students in his community
July 27, 2020
After 11 years at the helm of Pacific Grove High School, Principal Matt Bell is as dedicated to student success today as he was when he was a math teacher at the school in the ’80s.  After seeing a large number of PGHS graduates returning home after one or two semesters in college, he saw the need to make his school counselors and students more aware of small colleges, which could allow students to continue their “small town” experience after high school. By securing grant funding for CTE courses and materials, and addressing achievement disparities and college and career opportunity gaps, Bell has been able to improve scores and set even more students in his community on the path for post-high school success. “Throughout his career, Matt Bell has been depended on to lead at most schools in the Pacific Grove Unified School District: Elementary, middle school and both PG Community High and PGHS. Why? Because Mr. Bell has become a staple in the PG community and has dedicated himself in making educational experiences for our youth a top priority,” said his nominators for this award, Sean Keller and Shane Steinbeck. “Mr. Bell reflects on areas for personal improvement and takes responsibility for change and growth. He is very consistent in his vision to the faculty and is willing to take on tough situations when the time comes.” What’s your favorite book on leadership?  I have a couple books that I like: Daniel Pink’s “Drive” because it gets to the root of what motivates people. I also like Shawn Achor’s “Happiness Advantage.” What’s your best strategy for work/life balance?  Get your work done at work. When I come home, I put on my fuzzy slippers (which tells my body that I’m home and it’s time to let down) and I rarely check emails. It keeps home separate from the stress at work. Shelter in place really messed me up for a bit as I felt the stress of work at home.  What made you want to become a school administrator?  I didn’t want to become a school administrator. But I found that as opportunities opened, administration was a good option for me. I also found that my love for working with students expanded to a love of working with staff, parents and students. As I’ve been a principal at all levels, I found that pre-school students are no different than 12th grade students, who are no different than adults. They all want to know that you love and accept them and that your focus is on what is best for them.  What’s the biggest challenge you’ve overcome to get where you are?  My own self-doubt that I can’t do my job. It seems that this is a common fear of being “discovered,” but on big decisions, it can sometimes keep you up at night second guessing yourself. This is why it is so important to not make decisions in a vacuum. What is your proudest accomplishment?  Of course, I can’t really take solo credit for my educational accomplishments — particularly this award. But I feel the most accomplishment when I see a student overcome a myriad of obstacles to graduate. I also feel immense accomplishment hearing from a student or staff member that I did something that had a lasting, positive impact on them. I also think that I have set up a culture with our faculty and staff where leadership is diffused and shared. It feels strange to stay, but I think the schools that I lead will carry on without me. Most decisions aren’t made from “up on high,” but rather from the group. While I understand when a decision needs to be made by me, I have instilled a sense of ownership and process that I am confident will lead the schools into higher levels even after I am gone.  What’s your pre-game ritual to get ready for a big meeting or presentation?  I really try to keep things simple and succinct. I focus on the question, “What do I want them to take away from this presentation?” Nobody wants to hear someone recite from a PowerPoint presentation, nor do they want to hear every detail on every data point. Zzzzzzz. Often, I will start with what I want them to take away (learning objectives) and then finish with the same objectives to be sure that I stayed on track. What was the best ACSA event you’ve attended?  To be honest, I haven’t been to a bad ACSA event. They are all different from the charter level up through the region and state level. Almost without exception, I have had some discussion with a colleague where I have walked away excited about using an idea that was shared. I can’t emphasize enough to my fellow compatriots to go to these events at the local, region, and state level. You will walk away with wisdom that you simply would not have access to any other way. What bucket list item do you hope to accomplish this year?  Hmmmm. OK, this is a little embarrassing as my bucket list item was to learn jazz piano theory and stretch my right side of my brain. There is no way to accomplish this item, but it takes me into another world ... I feel that it helps balance me, and if I am balanced (a questionable trait at best), I am better able to support all that come through my school. What has the impact of the COVID-19 worldwide health crisis taught you?  COVID-19 has brought out a lot of fear in folks. As a school leader, I need to be cognizant of those fears, both rational and irrational. We created an excellent plan on how to open school next year and maintain focus on our mission as a school. But, as many are experiencing, those plans are running into the buzz saw of parent and community fears. I realized to an even greater degree that I am seen as more than someone who heads up a school. I am needed to help calm parents and community. I am needed to bring consistent reason, sympathy, and empathy to a chaotic situation. The reach of what I do is immense. This pandemic has reasserted that our job as administrators is crucial not only for our kids in the classroom, our faculty and staff, but also to our entire community.
2020 Secondary Principal of the Year Matt Bell.
Pacific Grove High School Principal Matt Bell, at right, said the COVID-19 pandemic has helped him realize how important school leadership is, not just for students, but for the greater community.
Name: Matt Bell Award: Secondary Principal of the Year  Title: Principal, Pacific Grove High School ACSA highlights: member since 1990; president of ACSA Monterey charter (1994-95, 1998-99, 2005-06).
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