Matt Chaliff, Rockcastle County Schools
Kentucky School Advocate
May 2022Q. You were appointed to the school board and began serving in January. Why did you want to be on the board?
Public education has been a big part of my life. I’m who I am and where I am today because of teachers I had, so it was an opportunity to give back and contribute to the community. I have two kids in school, and I see the value of our schools, especially in a small rural community. I wanted to be a part of positive change. Q. Working in education is not new to you. Tell us about your job with the Kentucky Department of Education.
I’ve been with the department for 17 years. Before that I taught in Taylor County for four years. I work with agricultural education in the Office of Career and Technical Education. We work with the 300 ag teachers across the state on professional development, curriculum standards, facilities. I also run Kentucky FFA, coordinating state FFA contests and events and supervising state officers.Q. Is this like having two jobs?
There’s a lot of overlap between agricultural education and FFA. FFA advisers are also ag teachers, so it blends fairly well. Parts of the year are super busy like summer, with our convention in early June, officer training and the state fair in August. The fair is the most exposure to the non-ag community that we get. Half a million people come through every year, and probably half have no idea what FFA or ag education are.Q. Were you in FFA?
I was and my ag teachers were the reason I decided to go to college to be a teacher. FFA opened my eyes to career opportunities. Its leadership opportunities were huge for me. I found my place through FFA.Q. What is club membership like today?
FFA hit a low point in the ’80s when nobody wanted to go into ag careers. FFA started reinventing itself, reaching out to more than just farm kids. It’s been on a growth streak since then. Kentucky FFA will set an all-time membership record this year. There is so much interest in the food economy.Q. Why is FFA an important part of K-12 education?A.
FFA builds essential skills: speaking, communication, teamwork and critical thinking, which are so needed in industry. It takes young people who are shy and reserved and gives them the opportunity to practice their speaking and leadership skills. Down the road, some will become polished speakers and amazing communicators. Others might not be at that level, but they will have the skills to be leaders in their community.Q. As a new board member, what do you hope to help accomplish?
The ultimate goal is for every student to leave Rockcastle County with the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in a 21st-century economy. Hopefully lots of them will come back here to live and work and raise their family and make a difference in this community. But whether they’re here or New York or Chicago or Shanghai, we want them to have what they need to be successful. Part of that is continuing to provide opportunities. It has to start with great classroom instruction, but then there must be opportunities beyond the classroom, whether it’s FFA, athletics, band, chorus or other student organizations. Q. So, a couple of months into service, are you enjoying it?
I am. I've figured out there's so much more to know than I even dreamed. And the more I learn, the more I realize how little I know.
Getting to know
Profession: Agricultural education consultant for Kentucky Department of Education and FFA executive secretary
Hometown: Mount Vernon
Family: Wife, Julie, and children Anna and Ben
Favorite subject in school: Agriculture
Hobbies: Vegetable gardening. My favorite vegetable to grow is sweet corn.
Book recommendation: “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t” by Jim Collins. The concepts it covers are so meaningful, like focusing on what you’re really good at and doing that well, getting the right people on the bus, and the idea of inertia and how once you get progress started, it is easier to make it happen.
Interesting fact: My last name is pronounced like cauliflower, without the "lower". My great-great-grandfather David Chaliff immigrated from Kyev to the Cincinnati area in 1881. He saved his money and two years later sent for his wife and two daughters who had remained in Russia. He was a wood inlayer for the Baldwin Piano Company and we still have tables he made after he retired.