National Superintendent of the Year
June 07, 2017
Matt Utterback MAT ’95
Four finalists for the title of 2017 National Superintendent of the Year stood on a crowded conference stage in New Orleans in March.
Cheers rang out and digital “fireworks” exploded when Matt Utterback was announced the winner. With a nod to the recent Oscar mix-up over Best Picture, he jokingly asked if they had called the right name.
“It’s humbling and an enormous honor for our students, staff, and the community that supports us,” says Utterback, superintendent of Oregon’s North Clackamas School District, located southeast of Portland. “Public education is about saving students’ lives, helping them grow into productive and successful adults.”
Undaunted by a district with 32 schools serving more than 17,000 students, Utterback meets the challenge with stellar management skills and a keen sense of humanity. He and his team have increased graduation rates from 69 to 83 percent in four years; boosted attendance and test scores; and developed a strategic plan as well as a respected community engagement program. Because North Clackamas has many low-income families and diverse minority populations, he says equity and multiple career options are paramount for success.
Students of color make up 33 percent of the district’s population compared to only 5 percent of teachers. Those numbers led Utterback to initiate race-based equity training in 2012. “Students embrace learning when we affirm and honor their individual identities, histories, and cultures,” he says. “They grow and thrive in that environment.”
North Clackamas also offers the largest professional-technical program in the state of Oregon. Students from the district’s four high schools can investigate 16 different career-driven programs such as computer-aided design, culinary arts, forestry, and law enforcement. Each allows students in upper-level courses to earn college credits.
Before the national limelight arrived, Utterback was named Oregon Superintendent of the Year in 2016. That honor was also recently bestowed on two other graduate school alumni: Heidi Sipe EdS ’11 in 2015 (Umatilla School District) and Don Grotting in 2014 (now with the Beaverton School District), who completed the Standard Superintendent licensure program at Lewis & Clark in 2005.
Utterback has spent his entire 28-year career in his current district—rising from teacher to school administrator to district office administrator to superintendent in 2012. He credits his Lewis & Clark mentor, the late Tom Ruhl BS ’71, founder of the graduate school’s doctoral program in educational leadership, with “helping me grow and become the leader I am today.”
Utterback’s family tree is deeply rooted in education. His great-great-grandfather was certified to teach most subjects in Oregon in the 1860s. “I’ve got his handwritten teaching certificate framed in my house,” he says. In addition, his grandfather was an assistant principal, and his father was a teacher. His wife, Nancy Utterback MAT ’95, still teaches in the district. “We met in high school and walked three graduations together.”
When not on the job, Utterback loves running and the stress relief it provides. “I’ve run the Hood to Coast Relay about a dozen times,” he says. During those quiet periods of solitude, he lets his mind wander and explore solutions to challenges in his district. “I believe we must all work together with policy makers, legislators, and community partners to fulfill the dreams and promise of our students.”
—by Pattie Pace