Matthew Zito: Transforming M-A From “Penal Institution” to Paradise

2 mins read

When Matthew Zito started out as an assistant vice principal (AVP) at M-A 11 years ago, the campus appearance and atmosphere were drastically different from how they are today. In the year before he was hired, the school size grew dramatically and both the principal and vice principal left, leaving people concerned about the direction of the school.

Zito recalls that “the school looked kind of like a penal institution,” and many students had the attitude to match. There was an “old falling down chain link fence out front[…] and rooms straight out of the 1950s.” The front of the school is different today, but back then “when you drove by the school, what you saw was a dumpster, a bunch of milk crates, feral cats, and this dilapidated building[…] it was oddly designed.” Since then, M-A has undergone various landscaping and building projects, including the addition of the PAC, and as a result, the atmosphere of the school has changed.

Back when he was just hired, Zito admits there were “behaviors on campus that were not really productive for supporting an academic learning environment.” These “behaviors” included hundreds of students in the hallways after the bell signaling the  end of lunch. What was odd, Zito realized, is that “no one thought it was a big deal.” There was a “tolerance for what [he] felt was like really inappropriate student behavior.”

On his first Friday at M-A as AVP, there were four fights during lunch. “The school tolerated a lot of things that I was shocked at,” Zito says, including not only violence, but also lack of manners. For example, “no one threw their trash away.” Today at M-A, everyone is used to custodians picking up trash during lunch and having them remind students to throw their own away; by the end of lunch, the campus is fairly clean. A few years ago “it was so filthy that [the custodians] didn’t even try to clean up at lunch. When the bell would ring, there would be trash everywhere, and it would take over an hour to clean up.” While litter is found on every campus, there is less tolerance at M-A now for abandoning trash.

In addition, when Zito first arrived at M-A, boys frequently played dice games in the bathroom, and people extorted money from fellow students as they left campus. There was copious drinking at school events, including dances which seemed to have about 1,000 attendees. The “dancing was more appropriate for an MTV video than a school dance,” recalls Zito, who also noted that it felt “almost like a college frat party.” He realizes that it “was the culture of the school,” and that all students contributed.

Though not without its imperfections, M-A has certainly come a long way from where it started before Zito was hired. During his three years as AVP and eight as principal, Zito oversaw and instigated countless positive changes during his time at M-A. As a result of his efforts, M-A has adopted a more collaborative, enjoyable environment.

Hi, I'm Natalie Silverman, and this is my third year as a journalist. I’m really excited to work with this year's staff. In addition to furthering my skills as an editor, I hope to focus on local news, features, and podcasts this year.

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