November 1, 2017
Earlier this spring, the arrival of Interim Superintendent Dr. Michael Martirano took HCPSS by storm, energizing the students and staff with “the fierce urgency of now.” In his six months tenure, the veteran educator has already revolutionized school system culture with his infectious enthusiasm and charisma. Last Thursday, October 25, the self proclaimed “student-centered leader” held a press conference at the Board of Education to share his vision with high school journalists.
“My philosophy as a leader is ‘to lead is to serve,’” said Dr. Martirano. “I am driven as the day as long to make a difference in the lives of children, so that their voices are heard and that we provide the very best educational experience for all of our students in the Howard County Public School System.”
In order to spread his platform and meet members of HCPSS, Dr. Martirano has spent the beginning of the school year travelling to each school and hosting a staff pep rally. With 120 LinkedIn endorsements for staff development and 188 for public speaking, the charismatic leader excited members of the school system about a new era of executive leadership.
“He is clearly putting himself out there and showing a much more positive HCPSS for the future,” Student Member of the Board Anna Selbrede commented. But this grassroots approach to leading isn’t new to Martirano. In his previous job, he was the only West Virginia State Superintendent to visit all 55 counties in one year.
With over thirty years of experience in the educational field, Martirano has worn many hats over the course of his career. After graduating from University of Maryland with a degree in Science Education, he earned two master’s degrees in Student Counseling and Educational Policy and a doctorate in School Management and Instructional Leadership. Although he formerly served as Superintendent of St. Mary’s County Schools and then State Superintendent of West Virginia, his STEM teacher roots still shape his leadership style as a “teacher who just happens to be superintendent.”
In regards to his vision for equity within and amongst schools, Martirano referenced a common biological concept. “There’s a word we use in science: equilibrium. When an ecosystem is out of balance, that means that individuals within that system aren’t thriving. Sometimes you need a little bit more water sometimes you need a little bit more sunshine, sometimes you have too much of those. I’m looking at our system from a scientific basis, applying that equilibrium to ensure that growth occurs, but that supports are there as well.”
These supports are grounded in a strong commitment to revitalize the HCPSS educational experience, Martirano’s strategic “call to action.” Summed up in four words the policy aims to connect, value, empower, and achieve. Whether by hiring diversity coordinators or emphasizing the need for community in the classroom, Dr. Martirano noted that the most important goal is for students to feel comfortable in the classroom.
“If young people are facing challenges and not feeling included, feeling stressed, [or] feeling bullied that gets in the way of the educational process,” said the Superintendent. “We’re acknowledging upfront that we want young people included. We want the emotional and social wellbeing issues addressed.”
SMOB Anna Selbrede, who campaigned as a passionate advocate for a positive school atmosphere and mental health awareness, approves of Dr. Martirano’s push to make students feel comfortable in schools: “Instead of just pushing for the highest achievement, he really is reaching out to make sure that every single student in Howard County will be able to thrive at school. It is inspiring to have a superintendent who is really pushing for all students and believes in all of us.” Selbrede pointed to Dr. Martirano’s efforts to wellbeing by revising the grading policy and addressing the scourge of bullying.
Recently, Dr. Martirano attended an anti-bullying assembly at Atholton with the Bully Free Forever (BFF) club. The Superintendent sponsored the program along with Chris McComas, the mother of a former Glenelg student who took her own life in 2012 after being cyberbullied.
“It was really cool,” said senior Michaela Cohee, a member of BFF club. “He kept saying over and over again ‘No one hurts my kids.’” Cohee said that Dr. Martirano left the students with the message that the school system supports them and won’t stand for bullying or intolerance.
Dr. Martirano’s staffing and policy choices also reflect his commitment toward inclusion. Over the summer, he reorganized the school system department to include three localized Community Superintendents, a Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and a Performance, Equity and Community Response Officer. His administration is currently working to translate important documents on the HCPSS website in hopes to break down language barriers for children of immigrants and non-english speaking families. He aims to keep up with technological innovations by maintaining regular replacement cycles, specifically regarding the Computers On Wheels. For students who prefer applied learning, Martirano plans to expand ARL offerings; on October 17, the Board of Education approved the introduction of a brand new Agricultural Science Academy.
Although the Board of Education is currently conducting a search for a permanent superintendent, many think it is likely that Dr. Martirano will earn this title. With a vision and staff dedicated to promoting equity and inclusion, his future tenure in the school system–like his cheery attitude–looks bright.
“As a leader, I don’t look back, I look forward,” said Dr. Martirano. “I am a fresh set of eyes and set of ears, an extremely optimistic, hopeful leader driven by nothing but the desire to do right by kids.”