Matt Morales Joins East Lansing High School as Associate Principal
Matt Morales believes everyone has a path to follow. And while he grew up in an era different than his parents, he followed their example of a journey enhanced by education.
In mid-September, Morales stepped onto the grounds of East Lansing High School with a commitment to help teens chart their own pathways to success. As the school’s new Associate Principal, Morales joins Principal Andrew Wells and Associate Principal Nick Hamilton.
“A big thing for me is knowing that every student who walks through that door has a story to tell,” says Morales. “Listening to that story and creating an even playing field for all our students is something I’ve always valued and strived for.”
Morales grew up in mid-Michigan and graduated from Lansing Eastern High School in 2002. His mother, Vicky Morales, worked for the Ingham County Health Department for more than 30 years. His father, Johnny Morales, was a Vietnam veteran who served as a federal investigator with the U.S. Department of Labor for three decades. Morales, his older sister, and his cousin who his parents raised as their own son were the first in the family to attend and finish college.
“My parents were a driving force in me wanting to achieve a higher education,” he says. “They were also very giving people. My sister, cousin and I were influenced by their positive traits of giving back to the community and always being there for us.”
Drawn to a career in human services, Morales attended Central Michigan University to study sociology with a focus on criminal justice and substance abuse education. He earned his bachelor’s, then came to Michigan State University for his master’s in criminal justice. After interning in the family and juvenile justice division of the 30th Judicial Circuit Court, Morales knew he had found his calling.
Morales worked for more than a decade as a juvenile justice and mental health professional in the states of Washington and Michigan. His most recent post included three years as a juvenile court officer with the 30th Judicial Circuit Court, where he provided crisis intervention and treatment to teens and families experiencing substance abuse, educational neglect, truancy or mental health issues.
“I wore a lot of hats in my job,” Morales says. “It was an opportunity to be there to help kids create a new path for themselves, and to build awareness of behaviors that can cause them to fall on hard times.”
Morales says he was initially drawn to social services as a way to provide individuals with a second chance through self-discovery and education. Now he’s looking to apply his knowledge and skills within a school setting.
“One of the big things for me was the chance to work further upstream and try to help teens in a school environment,” he says. “It gives us a chance to communicate that, ‘hey, you really don’t want to go down that route, here’s an alternative path and potential resources to guide you instead.’”
Principal Andrew Wells reflects that Morales’ empathy and depth of understanding lends itself well to helping teens navigate the pressures and challenges of high school and adolescent life.
“He’s extremely relationship-oriented,” says Wells. “He’s someone who is willing and interested in supporting our East Lansing family, and supporting the work and mission of our school district—which is excellence.”
East Lansing Public Schools Superintendent Dori Leyko agrees.
“Mr. Morales’ non-traditional background and work experience as a juvenile court officer and mental health professional appealed to the hiring committee,” she says. “He’ll be able to bring unique knowledge and skills to the associate principal role.”
For now, Morales says he is focused on getting to know students, staff, teachers, and the community behind East Lansing High School. He’s been visiting classrooms and immersing himself in the daily routine and activities—both during and after school. He’s also looking ahead to supporting and building initiatives focused on prevention and intervention.
“I want students to know that I’m here to help you navigate any struggle, no matter how big or small,” he says. “One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about teens and young people is their overall resilience. The message I want to send is that resources are available, and we’re here to help in a supportive, non-judgmental way.”