Veteran educator gives back to the University that ‘rebuilt’ him

Author: Jamie Oppenheim
March 14, 2024
Matthews accepts his award

Vincent Matthews was a 2023 San Francisco State University Alumni Hall of Fame inductee. He accepted the award at the University's annual celebration.

Former SFUSD superintendent prepares the next generation of school administrators

Vincent Matthews is a quote collector. Talk to the three-time San Francisco State University alumnus for any length of time about his nearly 40-year career in education, and he’s bound to share an inspirational quote about teaching, young people or remaining optimistic in the face of challenges. But Matthews doesn’t just hang these sayings on a wall or dispense them to people having a bad day. He lives by them.

Take his first teaching job as an example. The San Francisco native taught at Washington Carver Elementary School, an all-Black school in the Hunters Point neighborhood. He worked under Louise C. Jones, a mentor. She instilled in him three truths: “All kids can learn; all kids want to learn; and the adults in the system have the responsibility for making that happen.” He built his entire career around those words, first as a teacher, then as a principal and later as a superintendent for school districts across the state. And now as a professor training future school leaders, those words still undergird his teaching.

Matthews joined San Francisco State’s Graduate College of Education lecturer faculty several years ago while he was still superintendent of San Francisco Unified School District, a role he retired from in 2022 after five years. He’s now an assistant professor in the Equity, Leadership Studies, and Instructional Technologies Department preparing current educators for roles in school administration. He teaches a yearlong degree program tailored to experienced teachers and other school professionals where they’ll earn their master’s degree in administration and an administrative credential.

“I feel like I was blessed because I fell into a career that was just a match. It was my passion. In that same way, I want to continue to give back to people who want to do the same thing,” he said. “So, these are [education professionals] who are very comfortable in the classroom, but they’re saying, ‘I want to do more.’”

Having held numerous roles in public education, Matthews is an ideal instructor. He understands the role of a principal. They are the instructional leaders and architects of a school’s culture — which must include a culture of achievement and a recognition of all cultures, he adds.

Matthews has inside knowledge about one of the largest school districts in the Bay Area, San Francisco, but was also superintendent for San Jose and Oakland school districts. He knows the students those districts serve. That kind of knowledge is invaluable to future school and district leaders, says Professor of Educational Administration and Leadership and coordinator of the program Irina Okhremtchouk, who recruited Matthews to teach at San Francisco State.

“Whenever [Matthews] presented an anecdote, whenever he shared advice about a challenge or a bright spot, [students] were able to take that advice and implement it immediately to see results. That’s huge,” she said. “For somebody who directs the program, like myself, I want to hear that professors, who are charged with instructing the students, actually make a difference in the way that not only resonates with students, but that students find useful and applicable to their practice.”

With such a distinguished career, Matthews could have taught at any number of universities — including ones closer to his Hercules home. But that was out of the question for Matthews. He owes his entire teaching career to SF State, the place where he earned his bachelor’s, master’s, teaching credential and doctorate degree. It’s the place that rebuilt him, he says.

After high school Matthews attended the University of California, Davis, but that was not a good fit. He was kicked out and returned home to San Francisco feeling like a broken person, he says. At the urging of his mother, he picked himself up off the couch and started taking classes at City College of San Francisco before transferring to SF State.

“It’s just the place that really made me,” said Matthews, a 2023 SF State Alumni Hall of Fame inductee. “There are banners all around SF State saying, ‘It’s the place where passion meets purpose,’ and that’s exactly what happened. … San Francisco State gave me my pride, my purpose, basically believed in me and said, ‘Vince, you can do it.’”

Coming back to teach at SF State is Matthews’ way of give back to both the institution and the profession that gave him everything. “I saw this quote in a classroom and it said, ‘The whole world is changed by changing your corner of the world,’” he said. “What I’m trying to do every day is focus on these 45 students, making sure they’re right to change this corner of the world.”

Learn more about SF State’s Graduate College of Education.