Five questions for Matthew Horvat, ASL’s next Head of School

“Authentic.” “High EQ.” “Strong collaborator.” “Listens with intention.” “Gifted leader.” These are just a handful of descriptors that colleagues, parents, trustees and associates have attributed to Matt Horvat, ASL’s soon-to-be Head, whose recent appointment was unanimously decided by the Board of Trustees in October.

Matt and his family will move to London and to Bruce House this summer, leaving behind Redmond, Washington—their Pacific Northwest home of more than a decade—and trading in verdant, bucolic views for bustling city life (though perhaps not trading in the weather). Matt’s reputation for visionary, inspirational leadership underscores his tenure at Redmond’s Overlake School, where he has served as head since 2012. And while he has been in education for almost three decades, this was not the original plan. 

The youngest of six children, raised by immigrant parents in suburban Philadelphia, Matt attended an all-boys Jesuit high school before studying history at the University of Pennsylvania. From Penn, he made his way to Boston University to earn a master’s in mathematics, which he thought would be put to good use for a career in risk management. “I was planning on being an actuary,” Matt recently recalled. “It was a steady job with a steady paycheck, which was my parents’ aspiration for all of their kids—for us to leverage the education they worked so hard to give us so that we could lead lives with greater opportunity than they had.” 

While coaching a high school crew team during graduate school (did we mention Mr. Horvat is also a former triathlete who won a silver medal for the US rowing team at the 1991 Pan American games?), Matt signed up to substitute teach for a math teacher on short-term leave. The lessons assigned to him—a Grade 5 introduction to the metric system and Grade 9 geometry—seemed easy enough to execute for someone earning an advanced math degree. That a few of his students were kids that he coached further elevated his self-confidence. It shouldn’t have. “I think they were shocked to see me completely choke in front of their class,” Matt laughs. By the end of day one, Matt made a profound discovery: teaching was really hard. Still, the energy of the students, the diversity of challenges and successes that accompanies teaching, and the prospect of relationship building within and beyond the classroom sparked a new interest for Matt that risk calculation could no longer satisfy. He diverted his actuary plans to become a teacher.

And teach he did: Matt taught math and computer science at independent schools in Boston, New York, Chicago and Taipei. He served as a dean of students, high school principal, and head. And now he will serve as ASL’s ninth Head of School. In anticipation of Matt’s arrival this July, we asked our head-to-be to share some highlights of the journey that has brought him to One Waverley Place. 

  1. What stands out most to you when you recall your early chapters of childhood and school? My parents put a premium on the value of an education, and this had a great impact on my siblings and me. We were told repeatedly how important it was to work hard in school, and that an education was the greatest gift we could be given. Certainly, my parents’ mindset was wanting to teach us how to fish.
  2. Describe a teacher who has made a difference to you. As a freshman in high school, I had a math teacher, Nick Kueneny, who never gave up on anyone. He was a tough grader and had high standards for all of his students. He was also incredibly giving of his time, and was deeply committed to our individual success. I initially struggled in his class, but with his help and persistence, I ended up acing it. 
  3. Aside from your career in education, you are a dedicated athlete who has competed in marathons and triathlons all over the world. Are there lessons you have learned from sports that resonate with your role as a head? At 58, I must admit that some of my most successful athletic pursuits are behind me. The last marathon I ran was with my wife in New York 12 years ago; however, in my various athletic adventures, I have learned the importance of hard work and teamwork, commitment, and determination to improve my game—driven by a willingness to take coaching and feedback. 
  4. Your passion for math suggests that you are a left-brained thinker. Do you have a creative side too? I wish I did. As an example, the other day in class, I noticed a student folding a piece of paper into an origami fortune teller, then a paper airplane with a fresh sheet. She colored each so beautifully, and it dawned on me that she looks at a piece of paper and sees something artful and exciting, whereas I see a flat, two-dimensional object. While I’m not artistically inclined, my youngest son and I enjoy tackling an ambitious restoration project, from bikes to building computers from scratch. We are currently tinkering with a 1971 MG classic car that we hope to have up and running soon. And reading is another important outlet for me. My favorite book is Look Homeward Angel by Thomas Wolfe.  
  5. If your wife and teenage sons had to describe you in three words, what would they be? This may embarrass all of us, but I asked them directly, and they chose these four: kind, thoughtful, resourceful and funny.