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(Brienne Green - Daily Press)

(Brienne Green – Daily Press)

Matt Conn is one of those lucky few who’ve been able to seamlessly merge their talents, their occupation, and their calling.

With an interest in and a knack for computer programming, Conn attended New Mexico Tech for three years following his graduation from Artesia High School in 2001. But he began to feel his passion for helping young people pulling him in a different direction.

“I wanted to be a computer programmer, and I enjoyed it a lot, but I just couldn’t see my personality sitting in a cubicle all day,” Conn says. “I felt like God was pushing me into, ‘How do I help the kids and be a role model?’ So there was a time in my life where I definitely felt shoved from New Mexico Tech to Eastern.”

After spending a semester at Texas Tech University, Conn completed his education at Eastern New Mexico University in Portales, where he was also able to run track as a junior and senior for the Greyhounds. He then returned to Artesia to begin his career as a teacher and coach. And he’s made a significant impact on his students in a relatively short amount of time, earning him the distinction of being named Best Teacher in this year’s Best of Artesia contest.

“It surprised me,” Conn says of his selection. “It was an honor. There’s a lot of teachers that deserved to be on that list that weren’t and the ones on the list were great, too, so it was an honor to be a part of that list.”

Conn’s occupation has since evolved, and as of this year, he is continuing to work half a day as an algebra, geometry and calculus teacher at AHS while adding a half-day working in IT for the Artesia Public Schools.

“New Mexico Tech was a good school, a tough school, and it really gave me a strong math and computer background, and then Eastern gave me the strong teaching background,” Conn says. “It all worked out great and was just a huge blessing. I found the perfect job.”

Conn also feels he found the perfect employer in the Artesia Public Schools. He’s clearly not alone in that sentiment, as the APS also won this year’s Best Company to Work For award.

“We hold our kids to a higher level in Artesia, and the Artesia Public Schools really supports teachers’ ability to be ourselves and hold ourselves to a higher standard, too,” Conn says. “Anywhere we go, our kids get complimented. It’s ‘Hey, how do you get your kids to act like that.’ And we have problems sometimes, but we’re unique.

“I wouldn’t go anywhere else to work other than the Artesia Public Schools. It’s just such an awesome place, and they support you even when financial times are tough. Dr. (Crit) Caton has always been the stronghold of, ‘We’re going to be just fine,’ and we follow his lead. He’s a great leader.”

In addition to his teaching and technology duties, Conn serves as a head football coach at Park Junior High School and has taken on the role this year of head track and field coach at AHS.

“I don’t know if I’m excited or really nervous about that at this point,” he laughs. “But I have Rex Henderson to lean on. He’s learning how to be a new head football coach and at the same time teaching me how to be a head track coach, so he’s a great resource.

“Our staff is also amazing. We have 10 coaches, and not very many track staffs get that opportunity. Cooper Henderson (AHS athletic director) is very influential in athletics, and he takes care of us.”

Conn has established a reputation amongst his students and athletes as someone to whom they can turn not only for academic advice but for guidance in their lives. It’s that empathy that has made him a popular teacher but, more importantly, a respected one.

“You’re not just there to teach, you’re there to help kids develop into the adult form,” Conn says. “They come to you with just about everything, and I think that’s the one thing I’ve enjoyed the most is whenever you can help a kid that is just having a rough day, and the next day, they come back and shake your hand or smile.

“The biggest reward is when a tough kid who normally gets in trouble in all their other classes shows you extreme respect because you’ve invested in their life.”