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Ressie Jeffries welcomes new principal

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Thomas Matteson is the new principal of Ressie Jeffries Elementary School in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

By Kim Walter -- kwalter@nvdaily.com

Thomas Matteson has held the title of principal at Ressie Jeffries Elementary School in Front Royal for slightly over a week.

Matteson began teaching in the late 1980s, with his first job as a special education teacher in New York. After he and his wife moved to Virginia, though, he taught fifth-, sixth- and seventh-graders over a span of about 20 years in Page County.

Most recently, he was an assistant principal in Harrisonburg. While he wasn't necessarily looking for another job, the school in Warren County seemed to be the perfect fit.

"I read an article about the partnership between James Madison University and Ressie Jeffries to start an RTI program, and I kept thinking how neat it was," he said.

Just a couple years ago, the two institutions came together to implement a Response to Intervention program, a strategy of diagnosing students who struggle with reading, early and often to determine how much support the individual needs.

"One thing led to another, and I heard about the opening and everything seemed to line up," he said. "All roads kept pointing to Ressie Jeffries."

Going along with the RTI program, Matteson said he feels that reading is one thing that needs continued focus.

"It always comes down to reading. If you can't read then there's a lot you can't do," he said. "Math is a biggie too, and our scores this year weren't the greatest, but we'll learn from it and keep on improving."

Matteson also wants students to have as many experiences as possible while in school that will tie in with their education.

"At the school where I last worked, we were reading a book about airplanes and a child was completely unaware of what they were," he said. "We want our students to be able to hook onto what they're learning about."

The new principal said he hopes to tackle another big issue and get kids up and moving.

"We don't want them just sitting still. Our responsibility is not just saving physical activity for P.E. or recess, but also in the classroom," he said. "The more senses you can involve in the learning environment make it easier for kids to remember what's being taught."

Matteson said his immediate goal is to learn first names of all faculty and staff members, and then tackle names of more than 600 students.

"I was a teacher for 20 years, so I plan on being in the classroom quite a bit," he said. "That's what I love."

He also said he hopes to learn more about the school division in order to get his students prepared to "compete in the global market."

"I want to help the teachers teach better, help the kids learn better and help everyone get better," he said.

Michael McCormick has been the school's acting principal since March when then principal Antoinette Funk was unexpectedly announced as "on leave." No further details were given by Superintendent Pamela M. McInnis, as she cited regulations governing personnel matters.

McCormick will return to his position as assistant principal.

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