|C.J. Martin leads his eighth grade history class in 2009 at St. Joseph School in Madison. Martin, who was a middle school teacher and assistant principal at the Madison school before he left to become the principal of a Catholic school in Georgia, will return to Nashville to become St. Joseph’s principal beginning with the next school year. Tennessee Register file photo by Andy Telli|
To find a leader to take St. Joseph School into the future, the school has reached back to its past.
C.J. Martin, who was a middle school teacher and assistant principal at the Madison school before he left to become the principal of a Catholic school in Georgia, will return to Nashville to become St. Joseph’s principal beginning with the next school year.
“This has always felt like my home,” said Martin, who taught at St. Joseph from the fall of 2006 to 2010. “I loved teaching and coaching here and the relationships I had with mentor principals and mentor teachers here. I learned a great deal. …
“It really feels like an opportunity to come home,” he said of his new job.
For the last five years, Martin has served as principal of St. Joseph Catholic Parochial School in Athens, Ga., in the Archdiocese of Atlanta. “It’s a pre-K through eighth grade school, very similar to here,” Martin said.
He will complete the school year in Athens before moving back to Nashville and taking over as principal on July 1.
The position at St. Joseph became open when Sister Maria Goretti, O.P., had to resign last summer and the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, who have provided a principal for the school throughout its more than 60-year history, didn’t have a sister available to replace her. Jackie Sullenbarger has served as interim principal this school year.
Father Tomy Jospeh, M.S.F.S., the pastor of St. Joseph, and the search committee decided to hire a lay principal.
“We were looking for the right leader and the search committee felt we got the right leader,” in hiring Martin, Father Tomy said. “We’re confident he will be able to take St. Joseph in the right direction.”
The committee wanted someone in the position who had experience as a principal, Father Tomy said.
“His experience at St. Joseph will help,” Father Tomy said, but “the school he was working in as a teacher is not the same school he will be leading.”
Boosting the school’s enrollment will be one of Martin’s main priorities, Father Tomy said. “Most of our kids live in Sumner County. Sumner County has good public schools that are free. His challenge will be in making people understand there’s greater value in and the importance of a Catholic education,” he said. “In a secular society that can be difficult.”
Martin knows increasing enrollment will be a challenge. “The challenge is showing everybody the value that St. Joseph offers, demonstrating the high standard of academics … and the values that are taught by a caring and involved faculty in a family environment,” he said.
Martin said he will have to work with St. Joseph and several other parishes from which St. Joseph draws students, particularly Our Lady of the Lake in Hendersonville. “I want to be visible and make sure the work our students and teachers are accomplishing are out in the public eye.”
Martin grew up in Middletown, Ohio, which is located between Cincinnati and Dayton, and attended Catholic schools through high school. His father was a teacher, coach and administrator at a Catholic high school.
While a student at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, “I had an opportunity to coach high school football,” Martin said. “I fell in love with working with the kids.”
After graduating from college, he taught at a school in Middletown for a year and then moved to St. Joseph, where he was a middle school history and literature, the school athletic director and football coach, winning a parochial league championship.
Several of the teachers he worked with at St. Joseph are still there, Martin said, including Toni Saunders, one of the middle school teachers at St. Joseph. “She was a great mentor teacher,” Martin said. “The biggest thing I learned from her, she is always challenging her students.”
During his last year at St. Joseph, Martin served as the school’s assistant principal, working with then principal Sister Mary John, O.P. Martin called her “a wonderful mentor to me, both professionally and personally.”
Sister Mary John encouraged Martin to apply for the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program through the Alliance for Catholic Education at the University of Notre Dame. The program is designed to prepare leaders for Catholic schools.
Students in the three-year program take courses on the Notre Dame campus for six to eight weeks each summer and take two courses per semester online during the school year.
“The program starts off with a plethora of information about how to be the best spiritual, academic and community leader you can be,” Martin said. “With those three things, the other things fall into place.”
“What we learned at Notre Dame is directly applicable … to your everyday vocation” as a Catholic school principal, Martin said.
When he left Nashville to become the principal at the school in Athens, Ga., “it was an opportunity to grow professionally and personally,” Martin said.
In his five years there, Martin said, “I have learned a lot about working with a strong faculty. I’ve learned a lot about developing and fostering relationships with businesses and individuals in the community for the sake of the school. I’ve learned a lot about development and the relationships that go with development. I’ve learned a lot about budgeting and finance for schools.”
One of his biggest challenges in Athens was shepherding the community through the process of building a new facility and moving the school to a new location, Martin said. He had to keep the community informed throughout the capital campaign and the design, build and relocation phases.
“It was a challenge,” he said. “It was by far our biggest success as well.”
After he takes over at St. Joseph, Martin hopes to build close relationships with the city’s three Catholic high schools “to make sure our students are coming out strong and ready to handle the coursework” at the high school level. The high schools often have resources that elementary schools don’t have that they can share, Martin said.
His experience working with a strong and talented faculty at the Georgia school “is going to translate well to this very talented faculty” at St. Joseph, Martin said.
“The biggest strength that I will bring (is) I’m able to stay back and see what’s good for … all the kids in our care,” he said.
St. Joseph School will host an open house from Noon to 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 8, for prospective students and their families. The school’s new principal, C.J. Martin, who will assume his new duties on July 1, will be on hand for the open house to talk to parents and students.
St. Joseph is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and offers a diversified curriculum as well as a variety of extra-curricular activities for students. A before- and after-school care program and bus service are available.
“At St. Joseph, our goal is to prepare students in grade pre-K-eighth grade for a bright future with an educational program rich in academic excellence, traditional Catholic values and a loving, nurturing environment,” school officials said in a statement.
St. Joseph is located at 1225 Gallatin Road in Madison. For more information or to set up a private tour call (615) 865-1491.