- Orange County School District
OCS Equity Warrior for May 2021 is OHS Principal
Mr. Matthew Hunt
Principal, Orange High School
“This is really a school and team recognition.”
~ M. Hunt
Mr. Hunt came on board in OCS at the helm of Orange High School, close to the time when the pandemic struck. In the short time he has served as principal of Orange High, he has had a tremendous impact upon the school atmosphere, climate and culture. After all, the diversity of the community he serves is what “got him excited going in.”
Mr. Hunt was very honored to be named the May 2021 OCS Equity Warrior. However, he stated, “A coach wins ‘Coach of the Year’ because of his players.” In that light, school administrators are successful because of teachers and staff.
The first “real” meeting he attended at OHS as principal was an Equity Meeting, composed of teachers, school counselors and students during a lunch period. From the start, he was impressed with the passion and commitment he witnessed as the group worked toward developing a school equity plan. He was also struck by the students themselves, and their own experiences.
The students wanted the following outcomes:
- Teachers who reflected the diverse makeup of the school
- An African American studies course
- Culturally relevant textbooks and curriculum
- More bilingual support for Spanish-Speaking students and their families
- And a shift in culture to address microaggressions in hallways
So Mr. Hunt chose items that were the “quick wins” for students and which could be accomplished easily within about the first three months of his tenure.
The first win was a concerted effort to focus on data to know exactly who was in the school. He noticed that out of 40 educators, there were no African-American or LatinX teachers in the four core areas. When he came to Orange, 13% of (all) existing certified staff were teachers of color. In filling vacancies for the year, he ensured that 40% of the new hires were staff members of color.
Second, due to student demand, the African American studies course, taught by Mr. Xavier was added to the master schedule. Because the number of students wanting to take this course has increased significantly, two sections of the African American studies course will be offered next year at OHS. Additionally, and for the first time ever, at least one (maybe two sections of a Latinx Studies course will be offered next year, provided the right teacher is found.
Mr. Hunt also looked for every opportunity to give students a voice to express their experiences and other changes they would like to see. For example, some students presented at staff meetings to discuss microaggressions that they have either seen or experienced, in order to “help staff get more in tune” with what is going on and to help address these issues.
From all this, organic teacher-driven efforts have also popped up. Some teachers and school counselors have formed a book club and dove directly into a book that addresses systemic racism.
Mr. Hunt acknowledged that there was a lot of work and effort and gains made in the area of advancing equity at Orange prior to his arrival to “do the important work.” Still, he is a firm believer in this statement:
“People get hung up on the word 'equity'. But equity in practice is something that is not separate from all the other moving parts happening in an educational environment every day--or if we are doing the right thing--it shouldn’t be. We should simply do the right thing.”
OHS Student Voices:
Colin O'Hagerty, OHS Student - While Mr. Hunt could have come to Orange County and accepted how things were, going with the status quo, he didn't. We students are forever grateful to him for his courage. As a white man, he could have easily ignored issues of equity that have plagued Orange County Schools, especially Orange High, in recent years. However, he took it upon himself to make the necessary changes so that OHS would become a welcoming school for students of all backgrounds. From expanding the use of antiracism training in staff meetings to working one-on-one with students who wanted to see change at OHS, Mr. Hunt has consistently made the right choices. Even from his first major meeting with staff, the central focus of his work has been equity. He has focused on uplifting the voices of students of color who have faced these issues firsthand. Without his support, our school would not have progressed to become a more accepting place like it is today. There is always room for progress, but in his short tenure with OHS Mr. Hunt has made significant moves to make Orange High a better place for all.
Savannah Clay, OHS Student - For the first time in years, I felt like my principal genuinely cared about what I had to say, and was just as passionate as I was about improving equity in our school and beyond. Mr. Hunt wasn't an unapproachable adult figure that I thought didn't even know of my existence. Instead, Mr. Hunt was always but a phone call or email away, and took the time out to build personal relationships with as many students as possible, for the short amount of time he's been here. In the four years I've attended Orange High School, Mr. Hunt was hands down the best principal I've had the privilege of meeting. He is without a doubt a man of his word and a man of action. When the Equity Team, other students of color, and students from other marginalized groups expressed their concerns, Mr. Hunt took the steps necessary to address and prevent these problems from arising again. He is the type of person we need more of in this world: a person who leads, listens, strives for improvement, and steps up when others idly stand by. Mr. Hunt is well-deserving of the title Equity Warrior, and I'm surprised he hasn't been bestowed this honor sooner! Overall, Mr. Hunt is an amazing person and an even more amazing principal.
Samantha George, OHS Student - I really appreciate Mr. Hunt's commitment to listening to the students' perspectives regarding equity at Orange. He has never been defensive or dismissive when listening to other points of view. He comes across as sincere and genuinely wants to hear our ideas of how to make our school a more welcoming place for all students, and he's willing to admit and discuss possible shortcomings. Mr. Hunt empowers students to speak the truth, which makes him a great ally. He's committed to equity at the deepest level and doesn't settle for superficial changes. This school year, I've noticed a change for the better in our school atmosphere under Mr. Hunt's leadership.
OHS Staff Reflections:
Traci Barger, OHS History Teacher - One tangible thing that Mr. Hunt has done for students at Orange High School is to create space on our schedule for courses to be taught that celebrate the diversity in our student body and community. This year, we have a section of African American studies with over 30 students enrolled and working with Mr. Xavier, who Mr. Hunt was instrumental in bringing on board. Next year, we hope to have two sections of African American studies in order to meet student demand as well as a section of Latin American studies as well. These sorts of changes are impossible without a principal who prioritizes student voices and needs in the way that Mr. Hunt has.
On an individual level, Mr. Hunt has a gift for empathy, compassion, and building relationships. He goes out of his way to talk with students one on one, even going on a run with students one day, playing basketball with another group, and making sure that each person he encounters feels heard and respected. He is devoted to children, first and foremost, and committed to helping all children find pathways that lead them to success and confidence in themselves. For these reasons and many more, he is an excellent person to be celebrated as an Equity Warrior.
Kelly White Arnold, M.Ed., NBCT | OHS English Department - One of my favorite things about working with Mr. Hunt is how courageously he advocates for what's right. Over the past year, he's demonstrated a sustained commitment to listening--to our students, our faculty, and our community--and learning. These are essential components of allyship, and they are just part of the way Mr. Hunt leads every day. He has challenged our faculty to question a status quo that doesn't serve all students, and he meets resistance with tenacity, persistence, and positivity. He also shows a sustained commitment to forming meaningful relationships with all students, particularly those who have been traditionally excluded or underrepresented in educational settings. Mr. Hunt understands that equity isn't an "add-on"; it's the foundation of an educational paradigm that is truly democratic and inclusive.
Phyllis Farlow, School Counselor for OHS - In the short time he's been our principal, Matt Hunt has had an enormous impact on our school, particularly our work to be equitable and anti-racist. First, Mr. Hunt has increased the diversity of our staff by making excellent hires for crucial positions. Under his leadership, we have added Honors African American Studies and Honors Latin American Studies to our course offerings. More than any accomplishment, Mr. Hunt has set an example that impacts all our interactions with our community of students and families. He starts every conversation from a place of respect and appreciation, and our students and families can feel his compassion for them. During COVID and all the challenges the pandemic brought to public schools, Mr. Hunt has always made decisions and initiated programs that put all students and their needs at the forefront. I know I am a better school counselor because of his leadership and his examples of kindness and inclusivity.
Do you know a staff member, student, community member, school, etc. that is working to advance equity in the district? If so, we want to hear from you! Please email Dr. Dena Keeling, Chief Equity Officer with the subject line: EQUITY WARRIOR! Equity Warriors will be featured each month by the OCS Equity and Communications Departments.