They call it the “War Room” and appropriately so – as it is planning for the students who will wage the cyber wars of tomorrow.
The back wall is covered in ideas and to dos, visions for the future of the Alabama School of Cyber and Technology, and the students who will one day call the independent residential magnet school home. At the center of it all is Matt Massey, the school’s first president, who has the monumental task of building the school from the ground up.
“One of the appeals of this job was the challenge, but also the opportunity for not just our students here in the Tennessee Valley, but to put the state of Alabama on the national stage to fulfill a need,” Massey said. “It’s one of the biggest threats to our nation, and to get to play a leading role in that is pretty incredible.”
The list of to dos for Massey and his team is quite long: preparing an interim facility, visiting similar schools in Alabama and Tennessee to see how they operate, and raising funds the School’s Foundation so that it is ready to open at a permanent location in Cummings Research Park in August 2022 – and that’s just to name a few. But the challenge of fulfilling an educational need right here in Huntsville is what propels them forward.
“There’s a lot of big steps to take right now – decisions that are going to last for decades,” Massey said. “Making sure that we are talking to our stakeholders, and there’s so many folks that are interested in the success of the school. That’s what’s exciting about it.”
It’s a job Massey is well-qualified for, after more than four years as the superintendent of Madison County Schools, overseeing the system’s 27 schools, 19,000 kids and $180 million budget.
“I feel like my experiences suit me very well for this position,” Massey said. “When they picked this, they could have selected a subject matter expert that understands engineering and cyber and gone that way, but they decided they wanted to go with an educator mindset. Most folks, if they’ve been superintendent for five years, they’ve been out of the classroom for 15 years. My time in the classroom was not that long ago. I still feel like I am an educator, a teacher at heart. Being close to knowing what learning and good teaching looks likes and feels like, and being able to have a direct impact on that, is just a great segue into this.”
Gov. Kay Ivey announced the creation of the state magnet school in January 2018, and signed SB212, which officially created the school, in April 2018. It is the state’s third magnet school – it joins the School of Fine Arts in Birmingham and the Alabama School of Mathematics and Science in Mobile – and is designed to draw Alabama students who will one day meet the market’s demand for skilled workers in the fields of cyber and engineering.
“It’s vital to the success and security of the country,” Massey said.
When it opens in an interim facility for the 2020-21 school year, every school system in the state will have an opportunity to be represented in the school.
“We want the student population to look like Alabama,” Massey said.
While the school will be based in Huntsville, part of the legislation includes assisting “teachers, administrators and superintendents across the state in replicating cyber and engineering studies in their own schools.” It is one of the aspects of the school Massey is most excited about.
“We can’t solve a problem ourselves just with our students. We want this school to serve as a flagship school for the state,” Massey said.
While everything today is largely still in the planning phases, five years from now Massey sees the school making a positive impact on both the state and nation.
“Five years from now I think we’ll have a group of 9-12 students that are flourishing – maybe 350 students, half of which are residential – that are doing internships and work-based learning. The learning is not just in the classroom walls but in the field. We’ve got industry that is knocking our doors down because they want our students in their company,” Massey said.