Matthew Stem

Matthew Stem, of Lancaster, is Pennsylvania's deputy secretary for elementary and secondary education.

Matthew Stem did well in high school, but he admits he could have done better.

It wasn't until he enrolled in teacher preparation classes at Millersville University that "everything clicked."

"That's where the passion and the energy kicked in, because I could see the direct connection between what was happening in the college classroom and what I felt called to do," says Stem, a Lancaster County resident who now serves in one of the top education jobs in the state.

As deputy secretary for elementary and secondary education, Stem wants to ensure that Pennsylvania students reach their full potential sooner than he did.

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 "I believe that schools should be helping students get clear on what their life goals are and identifying their natural gifts and talents to help them map out a pathway," he says.

Stem landed in Harrisburg in 2015, after three years as an assistant superintendent in Berks County. Before that, he spent 19 years at the School District of Lancaster — first as a sixth-grade teacher, then as a building principal and later in central administration.

Age: 45.

Hometown: Piscataway, New Jersey.

Current residence: East Hempfield Township.

Family: Wife, Mimi; son, Nick, 19; and daughter, Talia, 16.

My typical morning: I get here early and try to have at least 15 minutes of quiet, reflective time to look over the plans for the day and then I really try to balance the time between internal leadership and external leadership.

Biggest difference between working in Harrisburg and working in a school district: The scale at which we can possibly impact change. We serve over 1.7 million students in the commonwealth, and it is humbling to know that decisions we make have a significant impact on so many lives.

A gratifying work moment: Last year was the first year that we administered the new PSSAs, and we're really proud of the way teachers, administrators, students and parents have continued to adapt instruction to the rigorous standards.

RELATED: PSSA math scores drop sharply in Lancaster County schools

Biggest work challenge: Having the discipline to be strategic in the improvement process. We'd love to accelerate all the great things we believe can happen for students in Pennsylvania.

My childhood ambition: To be a jazz musician, but after giving private music lessons, I realized I was more passionate about working with people than I was about music.

Instruments I play: Saxophone as my primary instrument and keyboard as my secondary instrument. I also love playing drums and bass at home when the mood strikes.

How my family hangs out: We enjoy time at the beach, and we're very big on traditions. For each season we have family traditions that usually revolve around different places in south-central Pennsylvania. For example, every fall is apple picking at Hopewell Furnace, followed by mom's homemade apple pie and chili.

My idea of exercise: Road cycling or riding some of the rail trails.

Pet peeve: When people don't use their individual gifts and talents to positively impact the lives of others. I can't stand talent that's not applied for the greater good.

One thing I need to be happy: I need to know that I'm making the most of every day and that the way I spend my time and energy is making a difference.

If I could have dinner with any person it would be: Martin Luther King, Jr. I would love to hear from him how he was able to relentlessly pursue what he believed in while maintaining his integrity every step of the way.

Advice for teachers still in classrooms: To not lose sight of the calling that we're a part of. That's what education really is. It's not a job. It is a calling.

Three words to describe me: Committed, thankful and blessed.

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