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Principal of the Year Personalizes,
Individualizes Student Learning


After watching her bright brother drop out of high school, Dr. Jeryl (Jill) Martin wanted to find ways to keep kids in schools. Her efforts as principal to personalize education at Thomas B. Doherty High School helped earn her national Principal of the Year honors. Included: Descriptions of efforts to individualize education at a large school.

Making school more personal for students at Thomas B. Doherty High School in Colorado Springs, Colorado, has been a priority for principal Dr. Jeryl (Jill) Martin during her seven years in charge of the school. Her efforts have paid off: Attendance is up, the drop-out rate is down, and student academic performance has improved.

For those accomplishments and others, Dr. Martin was named the 2007 MetLife National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) National High School Principal of the Year.

To give students more of a chance to take responsibility for their learning, Martin set aside time for students to meet with a teacher or advisor to set goals, review and discuss academic progress, and plan for improvement.

Since the program was instituted, average daily student attendance increased from 87 percent to more than 91 percent, according to the NASSP. Ninth graders, a group at high risk of dropping out, now have an average daily attendance rate of 94 percent. Dohertys dropout rate dropped from 3.2 percent to .88 percent during the 2004-2005 school year.

The school also adopted a program to help capable, but under-achieving students, develop the skills they would need to succeed in high school, as well as prepare them to enroll in and complete college.

In addition, Martin opened additional sections of honors and Advanced Placement courses to encourage more students to sign up.

With a busy year ahead as principal of the year, Martin took some time before her new responsibilities kicked in to talk with Education World about the inspirations, goals, and rewards in her life as an educator.

Dr. Jill Martin

Education World:What or who inspired you to be an educator?
Dr. Jill Martin: From an early age, I was interested in helping kids learn. I used to run backyard "schools" for the neighborhood children, and their parents loved the free babysitting. However, what eventually motivated my resolve to work with high school students was my younger brother dropping out of high school despite being highly intelligent and capable. That fueled my desire to make a difference and to try and prevent others from becoming dropouts.

EW: What are your goals as a principal?
Dr. Martin: I firmly believe that all kids can learn and that my job is to support students and teachers to ensure that there truly is "No Child Left Behind." Our mission statement at Doherty High School sums it up: "To empower each student to reach his or her academic, social, and civic potential."

EW: What are the unique challenges you face as an administrator in your school?
Dr. Martin: Our school is large, and we are committed to personalizing the environment for our 2,000 students. As we are becoming increasingly diverse, it is essential that we provide inspirational and competent adult role models for our minority students and for all students. We truly believe that success for all students can only be achieved through "Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships." Professional development to ensure that these three critical areas are constantly being addressed is essential. With all of the pressure to increase test scores, we have worked diligently to provide interventions for struggling students and to help motivate them to stay in school. Teenagers today are subjected to so many pressures and distractions, and they worry about everything from drugs and alcohol to school safety.

"Whenever I see an exciting lesson, observe that light of learning in a student's eyes, or see students and staff laughing and learning together, it's a great day!
The real challenge, as well as the solution, is to find ways to connect with each child to meet his or her individual needs. We have become deeply involved in the professional learning communities approach to problem solving and school improvement. Finances are also a vexing problem, as our state does not provide a high level of financial support for education. Obtaining the resources to provide a quality education for all students is a constant and ongoing challenge.

EW: What makes a good day for you?
Dr. Martin: I love teenagers, and I make sure to get into the classrooms, attend athletic and performing arts events, and just generally try to be visible and a part of the life of the school community. Getting my "kid fix" every day is crucial. Whenever I see an exciting lesson, observe that light of learning in a student's eyes, or see students and staff laughing and learning together, it's a great day!

EW: There has been a lot of talk on the national level lately about the need for high school reform. What aspects of high school do you think are most urgently in need of reform?
Dr. Martin: These are exciting times to be a high school principal! As I alluded to previously, we need to continue to focus on the individual student in order to ensure that all students are engaged, involved, and learning. As we raise academic rigor, we need to be sure that we don't forget about relevance and the importance of positive relationships with students. The recommendations for high school reform from NASSP's Breaking Ranks II emphasize these three areas and provide practical ways to get started.

"We need to continue to focus on the individual student in order to ensure that all students are engaged, involved, and learning.
The need to prepare students to compete in an increasingly competitive and complex global economy is paramount. Today's high school teachers need to understand the latest research on brain-based instruction, as well as being comfortable with using data analysis to inform instruction. Technology can help us with these challenges by enabling us easier access to data. This, in turn, will allow us to better meet individual needs and to provide access to rigorous curricula. In order to accomplish this change in the role of teaching, we need to be able to attract multi-talented and creative teachers to the profession.

Additional funding for higher teacher salaries and professional development is essential. I firmly believe that professional development is the key to successful school improvement and reform.

EW: What can be done to encourage more talented educators to become administrators?
Dr. Martin: In order to keep current, I teach masters degree classes in school administration. Some of my students got involved because a principal encouraged them. I believe that providing mentoring to talented teachers who are considering administration is very important. I am fortunate in that I have a built-in mentor at home, since my husband has been a high school principal for many years. Other aspiring administrators I work with were attracted by the opportunity to be part of a graduate cohort group in the school district. Many districts are "growing their own" administrators, and the strength of this approach is the resulting networking and leadership development within the ranks. Obviously, salaries are also an issue. Providing competitive administrative salaries is essential to attract talented teachers to consider administration.

This e-interview with Dr. Jeryl Martin is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.

Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Education World®
Copyright © 2006 Education World

Published 12/19/2006