Photo by Danny Fulgencio
Last year, Meshea Matthews became the first full-time female head of school at St. John’s Episcopal School since Grace Cook accepted the position in 1982. Matthews has been an educator for nearly 20 years, but she started her career as a broadcast reporter in the sports department at the CBS affiliate, Channel 11, in Dallas. It wasn’t until a chance encounter with former Hockaday School Athletic Director Joyce Rainwater that she found a career in education. As her one-year work anniversary at St. John’s approaches in July, Matthews admits her first year leading the oldest Episcopal school in Dallas was unusual. Halfway through the spring semester, the school had to close because of the coronavirus. Matthews isn’t sure what the fall semester will look like, but she knows she has the support and cooperation of the St. John’s community. “The community is so welcoming,” she says. “I’m incredibly proud of how we’ve responded and worked together.”
How did you become an educator?
I was working in the sports department at Channel 11 in DFW. The Cowboys were at the height of their greatest seasons. I enjoyed the job, but I felt unfulfilled in so many ways. Who did this work really matter to? I had never coached before, but [Joyce] called and said, “I have a job opening.” With my background in journalism, I later moved into teaching publication courses. Every time I got curious about what was out there, Hockaday would say, “Hey, how about this?”
What makes a fierce female?
You have to be fearless and do what needs to be done. That’s been one of the most significant takeaways for me this year. You can’t wait on the side of the pool. You have to jump in and go. Part of being a fierce female is surrounding yourself with people who will support you and be honest with you. I have an amazing husband. He really encourages and believes in me.
“If you want to make an impact, you have to be in the moment.”
How do you manage stress?
My husband and I love to ride our bikes. We take walks in the evening and try not to be on the screen. One of my favorite things to do is to play pickup basketball. A game of Knockout would do me good right now.
Do you play basketball?
My dad was passionate about basketball, and he shared that with his kids. We spent a lot of time as a family on our backyard basketball court. I played small-college basketball at Texas Wesleyan in Fort Worth. I’m missing the season. We missed March Madness, and that was more devastating than any other sports cancellation for me. I watch for teams that play team basketball. I love it when the team moves the ball. I don’t like the isolation style that some of the pros play today.
Photography by Danny Fulgencio
Have you experienced discrimination?
Discrimination, no. Harassment, yes. Being one of the only women in the sports department, that was a whole other level of harassment. At the time, there was myself and one other woman in the locker rooms. The setup was inappropriate. But if other males were going in there to get the story, you did too.
What’s your go-to neighborhood restaurant?
I’m a little bit of a foodie. I love to eat out. I love architecture and design, and it’s fun to see how a concept comes together. I love El Vecino. It’s so close to the school. I had many lunch meetings there last summer as I was getting to know people. My favorite doughnut place is in Lakewood — Jarams. We’re longtime Burger House fans. Hillside Tavern is becoming a new favorite. They have the best fish and chips. We’ve been patrons of Dream Café for years. I was sad to see The Lot go.
What would you like your legacy to be?
I hope my legacy will be of friendship. There’s a conversation I remember having with Joyce. She put her hand on my shoulder and said, “It’s time to pass the baton to the next generation. I want you to understand the role you’re taking on.” It was a deep conversation for a passing moment in the gym. That night, she went to the hospital and never returned home. What a meaningful moment to see your legacy live on in others. If you want to make an impact, you have to be in the moment. It makes me late sometimes, but if you’re thinking about your next plan, you don’t give people the time and attention they need.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.