Matt Fridley is no stranger to Mark Twain Elementary School — in fact, his first job in education was as a teacher at the Rolla school.

Matt Fridley is no stranger to Mark Twain Elementary School — in fact, his first job in education was as a teacher at the Rolla school.

However, after leaving the district for a few years, Fridley has returned and this time, he is serving in an administrative role.

Fridley officially became the grade school’s new principal on July 1 of this year and he has settled into the job nearly halfway through the academic year.

“I always wanted to be an administrator, especially an elementary school principal,” he said.

At the age of 33, Fridley began his career in education as a first-grade teacher for five years at Mark Twain School. He then left and took a position as a middle school principal in Steelville for five years before coming back to Mark Twain School.

“I took a different career path than many educators,” he said, describing himself as a nontraditional student.

At the age of 20, Fridley joined the Marine Corps and became a noncommissioned officer and a platoon sergeant.

“The biggest thing I took away (from the Marine Corps) was leading by example,” Fridley said, noting that he is willing to pick up a mop or tie a child’s shoe when needed as a principal.

After the military, Fridley went back to school and said his wife, Julie, also a nontraditional student, was instrumental in his success in completing his degrees.

Among his goals as principal are holding the district’s high standards, continuing the school’s traditions and working with day care and early child education facilities to make sure the children are prepared before coming to elementary school.

Fridley said he wants his teachers to continue to explain to the students how what they learn in school will be applied to life.

“As a kid, I most felt a part of the classroom when I knew where it (knowledge) was going to be used,” he said.

Fridley complimented the school’s staff and teachers:

“I’ve been here since July and I’m amazed at how dedicated our teachers are here.” He added that sometimes the teachers spend more hours at school than he does.

He noted that last month, the school’s staff organized a fundraiser that raised more than $15,000 for the Frayer family, who lost their rural home in a fire and whose son, Andrew, a student at the school, is a bone cancer patient at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.

“I truly enjoy having the opportunity to observe the kids in the classroom when they’re engaged,” Fridley said, noting that he likes to “see their eyes light up.”

Being a teacher before he became a principal helped Fridley because he was able to understand what goes on in an elementary school. He said he cannot imagine it would be easy to be a principal without teaching first.

Fridley earned a Bachelor of Science degree in elementary education from Drury University, and a master’s degree in education leadership from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a specialty in superintendent certification.

Fridley and his family have lived in Rolla for 10 years.

He and his wife, Julie, have been married for 23 years and have two children. Their daughter, Hannah, is senior at Rolla High School and their son, Andrew, is a 2010 graduate of RHS.