Teach For America Greater Philadelphia, 2003
Chief Operating Officer, Mastery Charter Schools
Matt Troha always knew he wanted to serve. As the chief operating officer at Mastery Schools, a system of 24 charter schools across Philadelphia and New Jersey, he’s supported an incredible expansion of an education system that shows it can connect with students–and address some of the most pressing issues of their daily life. “There was a service orientation in our family,” said Troha, whose father was a guidance counselor and mother a nurse. “They modeled what it meant to work hard towards a greater good.”
A former journalism major, he came to Teach For America after college because he knew he liked working with kids more than chasing headlines. But in his first weeks of Teach For America summer training in Los Angeles, he found that teaching was more challenging than he thought –he struggled, whether it was designing effective lesson plans or engaging all students. And when he came to Philadelphia, he struggled again in adapting to a new culture, new challenges.
“I quickly learned that being a great teacher takes skill and practice,” Troha says. “I’d like to think that every day I got a little better.”
That struggle, however, is what Troha found to be most important for his career. He brought that knowledge with him to Mastery, after a former coworker at Teach For America gave him a heads up about the school. On the first day there, he felt at home–and as of this year he’s worked there 17 years. What appealed to him about Mastery’s approach, going all the way back to the service mindset he gained from his family, is that the organization makes sure that teachers deeply believe that any student can succeed. “When you have a classroom, a school, an organization full of adults who truly believe in the potential of every child and back it up every day, then great things can happen.”
That connection inspired Troha, and he moved upward at Mastery, creating a larger and larger impact for both students and staff. Core to his success was a commitment to teacher coaching, which he learned during his time in Teach For America. When he was struggling in his first teaching role in Philadelphia, Troha had a dedicated TFA coach who helped him plan, analyze student data, and develop skills to foster strong classroom culture. Troha has made that approach fundamental during his career in school leadership. “I learned so much from the coaches I’ve had, both in sports and in teaching. I’ve seen coaching as a way to really accelerate the growth of teachers.”
One of Mastery’s most distinctive contributions is the improvements they have seen in their schools’ graduation rates and safety measures. “We have warm, caring, vibrant communities, where students and staff come to learn every day, and our academic achievement continues to grow,” Troha says.
Mastery is an evolving organization, and it’s a career-long effort for Troha, one that he brings his earliest experiences in education to.
“My time in Teach For America, the coaches that I referred to, the community that I had while I was going through the program, has been an ongoing influence in my career, and my commitment to educational equity, especially in the cities of Philadelphia and in Camden,” Troha says. “The people I met there have a tremendous influence on both why I got into this work, and why I’m still in it 20 years later.”