In 2014, then-Nooksack Valley High School principal Matt Galley completed his superintendent academic coursework and entered a formal internship with Mark Johnson, NV Schools superintendent. But that formal internship never ended, and Galley has been learning from Johnson ever since, prepping for the opportunity he now has, taking over this summer as Nooksack Valley Schools superintendent.
This is a role he’s eager to tackle.
After 28 years as Nooksack Valley’s superintendent (he was with the district prior to his appointment as superintendent), Johnson is retiring at the end of June and the NV School Board named Galley the new superintendent. Galley started his NV career in 1999 as a physical education and English teacher and assistant football and baseball coach (he was the head baseball coach the following year). Galley moved to the assistant principal role for the 2005-06 school year and then two years later became the principal.
He’s wanted the challenge of serving as a superintendent since his training from 2012 through 2014, but knew it needed to be the perfect opportunity. “I wasn’t going to just go anywhere,” he says. “I wasn’t going to go far and wide for the first job and I knew I still had a lot to learn.” As Galley’s own kids went through NV High School, Galley focused on his job as the principal, but also spent time soaking in Johnson’s know-how.
“The fact that Mark has been an ego-less leader and developer of leaders allows for me to come in and continue the work that is owned by the district,” Galley says. “It is not just Mark’s work, it is the high school’s work, middle school’s work, K through five work. The teachers own that work and the principals own that work and that is what I’m most proud of.”
Johnson believes Galley will lead the district well. “Matt has been successful at everything he’s done,” he says. “He was an outstanding teacher and coach, an excellent assistant principal and principal. A good indicator of future success is a past full of success.”
Galley says that spending time with Johnson, seeing how he is when people aren’t around and watching his reactions to both positive and challenging situations, has allowed him to learn Johnson’s thought process and how to look at each individual circumstance and approach it in order to work through the issues.
“I so respect his perspective and his ability to view the big picture and to work it into situations where you solve the problem and people still feel completely respected and valued,” Galley says. “Mark has had to make really tough decisions and walked out of those with people feeling respected and valued. That is leadership. I would hope I would be able to have similar results in similar situations.”
Having so many years to focus chiefly on his role of a building principal, but also observing and learning from Johnson has already shaped how he views and responds to situations. “I was able to take a building system approach to the high school and having that perspective and thinking along those lines further cemented I wanted to be a superintended one day,” he says, adding he knew his first choice would always be at Nooksack Valley.
That dedication to Nooksack Valley is something Johnson says matters. “Matt and his family are committed to Nooksack Valley,” he says. “They bleed purple and love this community. They made a decision long ago to move here and raise their family here. He has had many opportunities to go elsewhere but has remained committed to our valley and will remain so into the future.”
Galley says that the board choosing to hire from within shows their belief in the direction Johnson has led the district. “This will be a little different than if I was going to a new district because there is so much familiarity with things beyond the high school, even though I have a tremendous amount to learn,” he says. “We have tremendous stability and leadership at all levels.” Galley will lead a group that includes elementary school principals Kevin DeVere, Katie Brown and Megan Vigre, middle school principal Joel VanderYacht and current NV High School assistant principal Collin Buckley as the new principal of NVHS. Cindy Stockwell, the assistant superintendent, has been in the district office for 15 years.
“It will be a different challenge than something brand new because there is so much embedded experience and leadership and it is more about keeping the good goings going and finding my niche,” Galley says.
Johnson knows Galley is ready. “I have complete confidence that Matt will be a successful superintendent,” he says. “He is beyond ready, so much more so than I was so many years ago. He will hit the ground running and bring fresh energy to the work. I’m excited for him and for the district moving forward.”