Dan Matthews knows the satisfaction of academic excellence and the sacrifices necessary to achieve it.
The Camden High principal joined the school community in celebrating earlier this week when Camden High was named one of five statewide winners of the 2014 Palmetto’s Finest Award.
The annual designation by the S.C. Association of School Administrators recognizes student achievement and includes an intensive application process with a self-evaluation, peer reviews and on-site examinations.
This is the second school under Matthews’ leadership to receive the award. Lugoff-Elgin Middle was named a Palmetto’s Finest Award winner in 2009 when he was principal.
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Matthews talked recently about the selection and his passion for education.
What was your general reaction to Camden High being named a Palmetto’s Finest Award winner?
“Excitement and elation. This is a huge validation for our faculty and staff. To be recognized among the elite high schools in our state is a huge accomplishment that will be a source of pride for our school, district and community.”
And what does it mean to you personally to have been a part of two such honors?
“I have been blessed to have been a part of two wonderful school communities. The staff, students and community at Lugoff-Elgin Middle School and the staff, students and community at Camden High School are special and unique. They are committed to educating the students in their communities in a positive, forward thinking way.”
How significant was it to be able to share in that celebration with the school community during the public announcement?
“In my mind, it was crucial. Our community is a big part of who we are. For Camden High to be successful, there needs to be a strong alliance between the school, the parents and the community.”
One of the major aspects of the selection process is self-evaluation. How is that process important to the continued development of any school?
“That aspect is truly why we started the process. We need to look at what we are doing as a school and compare ourselves to other high performing, outstanding schools. We need to look at the harsh realities of what we do every day and strive to make it better. Our community expects no less and neither should we.”
Camden’s motto is “Commitment to Excellence.” What are some of the major things the school does to keep that commitment?
“We believe in creating engaging lessons, which use technology as a vehicle to help deliver that instruction. Our teachers and administrators look at their data to make informed, thoughtful curricular decisions. Our staff as a whole understands that a high quality teacher makes all the difference in the world to a student. Ultimately, it is the commitment to making relationships with students so they understand that we have their best interests at the core of our mission.”
In the past five years, Camden has donated more than $100,000 and 5,000 service hours to various charities. How important do you think the service component is in the development of students?
“One of my favorite books is ‘The Servant Leader’ by Ken Blanchard. In the book, he discusses the fact that we truly lead when we are serving the needs of others. So many people do so much for Camden High. We must lead by serving our community in kind. There is no better feeling than making someone else feel better.”
What is one of the best kept secrets about the school that you wish weren’t so secret?
“I think the high quality of the personal character of the students and staff at Camden High. It is important to do the right thing, but more important to do it for the right reason. They have suffered through drastic budget cuts and managed to rise to the top. That shows tremendous grace under fire. Camden High School and the Kershaw County School District do amazing things in the lives of young people every day. We are ecstatic to share this award with the citizens of Camden and Kershaw County.”