WOHS principal sworn in as attorney

Matt Turner has graduated from law school and passed the Florida Bar Exam, and he is accredited to practice law in the state of Florida.

Matt Turner, left, was sworn in by his longtime friend, Judge Chad Alvaro.
Matt Turner, left, was sworn in by his longtime friend, Judge Chad Alvaro.
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West Orange High School Principal Matt Turner can add a new title to his résumé now that he’s passed the Florida Bar Exam and has been sworn in to practice as an attorney in the state.

For three years, starting in 2016, he served as a principal by day and attended law school and studied at night. There are three parts to the process — taking 90 credit hours at an accredited law school, passing the bar exam and fulfilling the bar applications — and they must be completed in 25 months.

Turner earned his degree from Florida A&M University College of Law, but he learned it was nearly impossible to effectively run a school during a pandemic and study for and pass the bar exam.

“I was principal at Westridge Middle, then the pandemic hit, and I kind of stopped taking the test,” he said. “There was just too much going on. … When you’re working full time, it doesn’t stop. (To pass) one of the tests, you have to study full time. The other students aren’t working, they’re not doing anything else but studying.”

After the pandemic, Turner was determined to take the test again. He passed the federal portion in February 2023 and the Florida portion that July. He passed the professional ethics test but had to retake it because it had expired.

There’s a cutoff score of 136, he said, and most people score between 132 and 140. He worked hard to learn the material, he said, and scored 147. He had to write three essays, and one of the questions was about a commissioner who had a Facebook page and was blocking people.

“It’s the same with me,” he said. “I’m a government official; could I do that? The answer is no. It was a full-circle moment, because I could use some of the things I do here.”

Turner’s swearing-in ceremony was April 30. His good friend, Chad Alvaro, a circuit judge for District 9, swore him in — and at that moment he was officially licensed to practice law in Florida.


Turner has made it his mission to be an encourager of students. He has high expectations of them, and he pushes them to excel.

Likewise, he pushed himself to excel in law school too.

“I believed I could do it but no one in my life told me I could,” he said. “No one ever told me growing up, you can do this. I tell my staff and my kids here, no one ever pushed me academically. I was an athlete, a good one … so I was basically put in a corner and told to do a good job.”

Turner chose to become an educator, a decision he does not regret. He was a teacher at Oak Ridge High School, a dean at Edgewater High School and an assistant principal at Jones High and Westridge.

“I had my master’s in educational leadership, but I knew I needed something else,” he said. (Going to law school) really changed my life. The amount of stuff I know now is crazy.”

It’s important to make connections in law school too, he said. When he was having an addition put on his house, workers were deviating from the contract, so he called one of his former law school classmates, and she took care of it.

Turner is interested in practicing law on the side, and he currently does a little consulting work on education cases using his legal background with a few law firms. As well, he assists the Orange County Association for School Administrators and its principals and assistant principals with investigatory issues or situations at schools. He takes around 10 calls each week from those needing assistance.

He knows this degree will open up career possibilities in the future, but he said he loves West Orange High and its students and the community too much to leave education right now. This is his 20th year in education, 19 of them with Orange County Public Schools. He has been a principal for six years.

He could decide to apply for a superintendent’s position within a decade, he said.

“Down the road if I feel I don’t want to do education anymore, I have something else I can do,” he said.

Orange County Public Schools staff joined Matt Turner, second from left, at his swearing-in ceremony with Judge Chad Alvaro, right; Britt Despenza, left, principal leader; and Jose Martinez, chief of high schools.


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