Class is in Session
AHS Principal Matt Shockley Talks Programs, Participation & Pride
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Photographer Amy Payne
Across the board, Avon High School is successful — athletically, academically, artistically. There’s the phenomenal marching band, of course, which repeatedly receives top accolades year on year. Plus, in 2017 the Avon Orioles girls volleyball team won the IHSAA state championship. Academically, Avon High School is an “A” school, and perhaps most impressive, they are consistently a school with a 97 percent graduation rate and 96 percent attendance rate.
“We continually have a high percentage of AP students who are earning 3, 4 or 5’s on AP exams,” says Matt Shockley, AHS principal. “And well over 80 percent of our students pursue post-secondary education, whether that be a 2-year, 4-year, or trade/apprenticeship type of program. These are all points of pride for us, especially since these numbers have steadily climbed over the past several years.”
JAG (Job for America’s Graduates) is a relatively new program that’s designed to support students who have a number of barriers to graduating from high school such as family, socioeconomic, or social-emotional. Shockley was approached by the Department of Workforce Development to start this program that helps students develop a plan for post-high school so they have a sense whether they want to enter the workforce, go to college or pursue some type of training program.
Approximately 40 students have participated in the program since its inception. Many of them have presented at Chambers of Commerce luncheons and school board meetings. They have also competed in local career development and leadership competitions. So far AHS is the only school in Hendricks County to adopt the highly successful JAG program.
“This is a niche of students that we haven’t served well in the past, but we are so glad to have changed that,” Shockley says. “The level of confidence and personal stories these students share about how this program has changed the trajectory of their lives and of what they thought was possible is truly inspiring.”
Counselors, administrators and current JAG members recruit students they think would benefit from the program.
“We know those barriers that the program is designed to best serve,” Shockley says. “In essence, these students are at risk to receive external support and mentoring during high school. This program provides that. Plus, a teacher is in contact with them for a year after they graduate.”
Last year the district received a Lilly Grant to support the counseling efforts in Avon schools (K-12).
“There’s a growing need within our school and our entire district to provide support and services for social-emotional needs,” Shockley adds. “There’s going to be continued conversation surrounding these issues as we brainstorm ideas to enhance what we’re already doing.”
In addition, Indiana State Board of Education passed the new graduation pathways for Indiana’s high school students, which will impact students starting with the class of 2023. Shockley says that he and his staff will determine how to align their programs to best serve students who fall under the new parameters.
Shockley just wrapped his 24th year in education, 14 of those as a high school principal. Prior to moving to AHS five years ago, he worked at Center Grove High School, serving nine years as principal and three as assistant principal. Before that, he was an assistant principal, special education teacher and social studies teacher at Tipton High School.
When Shockley and his wife Amy moved to Avon, he was worried that their children Grace and Sam (who were in middle and intermediate school at the time) wouldn’t transition well as that’s a tough age to uproot. But they quickly got involved in athletics and clubs within the Avon community. The family also settled into a worship routine at Trader’s Point Christian Church West. And through sports, school and a solid support network of neighbors and colleagues, everyone has settled in nicely.
“We’re just so happy to be a part of this community,” Shockley says. “In fact, one of the things I love most for my family is the diversity. My children are exposed to different people with different backgrounds, and I believe that’s a strength of our community.”
Shockley, a huge Butler Bulldog basketball fan, loves to indulge with ice cream — moose tracks, in particular. It’s a food that tastes even sweeter when being consumed on any beach along the Gulf Coast. When he can’t escape to the beach, however, Shockley unwinds by getting down in the dirt — literally.
“I love to plant things, nourish them and watch them grow,” Shockley says. “I get these interests from my grandparents, who were big into gardening.”
An important aspect of Shockley’s job is daily interaction with the students. To keep his finger on the pulse of the student body, each month he meets with 10-12 students of all ages to ask for feedback on how to improve the school. When he asks students for examples of some of the best aspects about being an Avon Oriole, they say the school feels safe, has a helpful, supportive staff and offers lots of academic, athletic and social opportunities.
An estimated 3,200 students will be enrolled at AHS during the 2018-2019 school year. Given that it’s a giant school with a big student population, Shockley strongly urges freshman to get involved in a team, group or club early on in their high school career.
“It’s critical to get plugged in and find a niche in order to make the high school experience even better,” says Shockley, who enjoys watching students blossom over time. “During those four years, I get to celebrate their various accomplishments — whether that’s in the classroom, on the field, on the stage or wherever. That’s a great thrill for me.”
Witnessing growth in teachers is also rewarding.
“I see the difference they make every single day in the classroom,” says Shockley, who is grateful for the teachers, administrators and student body at AHS.
“Our students are diverse, talented, creative and focused on doing their best,” says Shockley, citing the lip-dub as an example of such creativity, concentration and collaboration. A couple of years ago, a student approached Shockley to ask if he could produce a lib-dub video that would involve the entire student body. It sounded like a logistical nightmare to plan, prompting Shockley to initially say “no.” But the student assured Shockley that it could be rehearsed out of school hours and filmed during the students’ SRT (Student Resource Time) period.
Shockley acquiesced and is glad he did. The video received national attention, but that’s not why Shockley views it as a success.
“The amount of money that was raised with the events associated with the lip-dub as a school was incredible,” says Shockley, noting that the students generated awareness and funding for Hendricks Regional Health Foundation Prenatal and Pediatric Care. Shockley was proud of how smoothly and efficiently so many different students, organizations and staff members came together to make the video.
“Even more impressive was how well the video highlighted the great diversity in our school as well as all the different opportunities we provide our kids,” he adds. “I’ve found that when you give students guidelines and parameters but empower them to run with an idea, with their energy, enthusiasm and creativity, they will thrive.”