“To anyone who wants to become a teacher, I would say be ready for the ride of your life,” jokes Craig Martin, principal of the Michael J. Perkins School (MPS) in South Boston and 2018 Massachusetts Elementary Principal of the Year. “Let’s be honest,” he adds, “it’s a calling.”
For Craig, education is more than a career. It’s a means for engaging with others who share his vision of changing the world. Now in his fifth year as principal at MPS, Craig is just as inspired as he was on day one—and it shows. “I’m up at 4:00 am every day because I know I have an opportunity to learn something,” he says. “I’m learning how I can help lead a movement for the future of our children.”
Innovative. Visionary. Compassionate. These are just a few of the words colleagues use to describe the infectiously enthusiastic school leader. Craig’s leadership philosophy, which he summarizes simply as “the power of feedback, publicize the praise, and joy matters,” has reenergized his school. Since stepping into his role as principal, he’s galvanized colleagues, students, and families behind his mission to foster a community-wide culture of positivity.
Each week Craig’s “Martin Memo” acknowledges examples of growth, innovation, and collaboration he’s witnessed at the school. Every day, students are greeted by high-fives from at least four staff members who know their names. Attendance competitions and celebrations get kids excited about coming to class. Other initiatives, like a partnership with Boston’s Children Hospital, ensure that teachers are promoting an environment in which all learners feel safe. As unconventional as these methods might seem, they’ve made a tangible impact.
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From 2012 to 2017, suspensions dropped by an unprecedented 50 percent while chronic absenteeism decreased 22 percent. In a school district where nearly one-third of students speak a different language at home, standardized testing scores have improved. In fact, Latino students and English language learners at MPS are now surpassing state averages in English language arts and mathematics. These achievements, among many others, have earned Craig recognition from the Massachusetts’ School Administrators Association as well as the National Association of Elementary School Principals.
“Serving as the principal at the Michael J. Perkins School has been quite rewarding, because I’m championing for the children,” reflects Craig, who began his journey to school leadership as a teacher and technology specialist in Boston Public Schools (BPS). During his first year at BPS, he enrolled in a master’s degree program at Lesley University, hoping to integrate the arts into his teaching. Through his graduate program, Craig gained not only a like-minded community of educators, but also a sounding board for new ideas.
Empowered to take bigger risks in the classroom, he integrated creative methods into his teaching, like asking students to write rap lyrics about animals and adaptation. These new methods built the foundation for the boundary-breaking work he does today. “I learned different tools that enhanced my own practice. A lot of that came from sharing ideas with my colleagues in class,” says Craig. “I was surrounded by educators who were just as passionate and enthusiastic. We all knew the work we were doing was going to have a great impact, and that was very powerful for me.”
As an educator, Craig knows that moving his practice forward relies on a commitment to lifelong learning and refinement. For him, being connected to educators at Lesley and MPS who are “just as zealous about the work,” provides extra motivation to do better and to do more for his students and staff.
“It’s about working day to day to try to find out how can we do things better,” says Craig. “It means advocating for programs and supports for our children, families, and staff. It’s about learning the craft along with your colleagues. Because I’m still a learner, and I think that’s powerful, too. It inspires the teachers that I work with to know that I don’t feel as if I’ve made it—I’m right here in the trenches trying to figure this out.”
While Craig continues to earn accolades for the progress he’s inspired at MPS, the Principal of the Year is looking forward to representing Massachusetts in the National Distinguished Principal Program in Washington, D.C. He’s also furthering his work as co-founder of the Boston Public Schools Leaders of Color and president of the Boston Elementary Principals Association. But at the end of the day, his focus remains on his students.
“We are guiding the lives of children, youth, and adults. We are working to inspire and motivate them to find their own passion, their own path, their own narratives, and their own stories,” says Craig. “I’m grateful that I continue to be in this position and I have this ability to do this work.”
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