Iowa Secondary Principal of the Year traces roots to UNI

Iowa Secondary Principal of the Year traces roots to UNI

Anna Flanders /

UNI-trained educators and educational leaders are frequently recognized for their excellence. Matt Kingsbury, principal at Vinton-Shellsburg, is no exception, as School Administrators of Iowa recently named him 2024 Iowa Secondary Principal of the Year. The accolade comes after Kingsbury has spent nearly 20 years in educational leadership.

The award is certainly validating for years of early mornings and late nights, and Kingsbury doesn’t plan on changing his approach to educational leadership any time soon.

“I’m focused on just making this the best place for our students and our staff and our school community,” said Kingsbury. “That's what I'm doing each and every day. Nothing's changing.”

Matt Kingsbury

In the coming months, Kingsbury will go to Washington D.C. to represent Iowa among top secondary principals from around the country. He believes that his experiences at UNI, both as an undergraduate getting his physical education degree in 1996 and later getting his advanced studies certificate in superintendency in 2020, have helped him get to this point in his career.

“I have zero regrets about going to UNI,” said Kingsbury. “Truthfully, if I had to go back to college right now, I would go to UNI in a heartbeat. I had a great, great experience at UNI both in my undergrad as well as in my specialist degree with the programs, the instruction, the professors, the campus itself, the facilities, the social life. It was all exceptional.”

Kingsbury grew up in Keosauqua, a small town in southeast Iowa. Before transferring to UNI, he attended community college. He chose UNI to finish his bachelor’s degree in large part because he was interested in education, and he knew the esteemed reputation of the College of Education. After growing up working with younger kids frequently at church and other youth activities, teaching seemed like a natural fit. 

“I've always enjoyed working with kids in general, trying to support them and help them learn and grow and teach them different things,” he said.

Kingsbury appreciated the smaller class sizes. He has fond memories of living in the dorms and going to study groups in Rod Library. He believes UNI also did an exceptional job of setting him up for the real world outside of school.

“The program side of UNI offers you a great experience, but it also prepares you for what your intentions are career-wise,” he said. “That is that hands-on learning piece, that project piece, the information and the details of the curriculum — all of that helps so when you get done with a UNI program, you are prepared for your career.”

While at UNI, Kingsbury met his wife, Heather, who earned her degree in finance in 2000. Today she works as a loan officer and is just as proud of her UNI education as her husband.

It was while Kingsbury was at his first teaching job at Wapello High School that a fellow staff member suggested he pursue school administration, prompting him to earn his master’s in educational administration.

“I like to see people grow, and I think that's one of the biggest things that drew me into education going into UNI and even to where I'm at right now is you just have the opportunity each and every day to have an impact on kids,” said Kingsbury. “I think that's really what it comes down to is that passion for kids — it's having that impact, being a great role model for those individuals. If you can just try to impact the lives of one kid, you're gonna make a big difference.”

Kingsbury came to the Vinton-Shellsburg High School as principal in 2011. As he reflects on over a decade at the school, he believes he’s accomplished many things, including increasing the collaboration district wide amongst educators. Kingsbury also spearheaded offering online programming for homeschooled students in the district who would like to dual enroll and making sure those students still have access to his staff.

In spite of these accomplishments and his recent award, the thing that gives Kingsbury the most pride is seeing students succeed.

“People think success is being the best,” he said. “Through my time, I’ve learned that success isn’t always being the best. The first step is seeing kids grow in general.”

For those who are looking to get into educational leadership, Kingsbury recommends being flexible and not allowing a fear of failure to create stagnation. Of course, he’d also highly recommend a UNI education for any aspiring educator or educational leader. Kingsbury reflects so positively on his experiences at UNI that he still visits with his wife and their three kids.

“We visited UNI with the first two before they committed to a school and, because of my experience and my wife’s experience, we’ll be visiting again with our youngest,” he said.