Starks’ Start

New freshman principal transfers from MW to MN


Stopping before the main entrance, Matthew Starks takes a breath and fixes his tie. It’s been seven years since he last taught at MN. The school has evolved significantly since then, but, then again, so has he.

Starks student taught at MN in 2014 and 2015 before transferring to Millard West High School to teach, coach, and, during his last year there, assist the athletic director. But he’s come back after finishing his administrative degree this past summer to start as the freshman assistant principal.

“[The freshman principal is in charge of] mainly the day-to-day discipline things that happen with freshmen– we have a number of different interventions that we try to implement to help them successfully transition to high school,” Starks said.

After interviewing for the position in February of 2022, Starks received word three days later that he had been approved by the MPS Board of Education.

“I knew I was going to be done with my degree this summer, so I put my name out there. And then once I was in the interview, it just felt like a good fit,” Starks said.

Starks started the position this past summer, coming in to learn the protocols, procedures, and to get to know some of the other administrative members.

 “The transition has been awesome. The difficult part is getting a grasp on what some of the big rock items that I need to handle are,” Starks said. “It’ll be a mentality shift from being in the classroom and working directly with students to working with adults, but working with the administrative team has been very helpful.”

Amber Ripa, the current junior assistant principal, was the freshman assistant principal for the last three years. She’s spent that time trying to get to know and advocate for students.

“Once you understand the student and what their goals are, you can have different conversations [with them] rather than the black and white that’s in the handbook,” Ripa said.

Similarly, Starks has been in the hallways talking with students, building relationships and advocating for their future– in this building and beyond it.

“One of my commitments when I took this job was to be visible. I think being seen as only the disciplinarian can give a bad image of who I am, because I want to celebrate the successes that students have in this school. I want to be around,” Starks said.

Unfortunately, there’s never enough time in the day to try and handle everything.

“I wish there was a typical day. You don’t plan your day, you just come ready to help. I’ve never had two days that are exactly the same,” Ripa said. 

However, Stark plans to bring his A-game to help whoever and however he can.

“Trying to be consistent across the board [is important to me], regardless of what the student’s scenario is, but I wouldn’t be able to handle it the same with Student A and Student B,  regardless of what their particular issue is,” Starks said.

Lance Smith has been the assistant principal and activities director at MW for five years, and Stark’s friend for eight.

“[Going from the classroom to administration] is always an adjustment, especially for former coaches who value those student interactions,” Smith said.“He’s always been heavily invested in the success of extracurricular activities and I look forward to seeing the connections he makes with students at MN.”

Starks is excited to leave the interim of adjusting. His goal is to learn more about students and get the opportunity to build relationships with them.

 “Mr. Starks is highly focused on relationships and I believe he will lean on those skills to meet challenges. He asks a ton of questions and loves to learn about what he is doing. Those two things will serve him well in this role,” Smith said.

Adaptability, compassion, and listening. Ripa deemed these traits necessary for the role of assistant principal. Even after seven years away from MN and being fresh out of administrative training, Starks has proven that he has all of these qualities and more. Straightening his tie once more, Starks steps onto his old stomping grounds and into his new career.