|C.J. Martin is the new principal at St. Joseph School in Madison. He formerly taught at the school from 2006-2010. Photo by Andy Telli
This is a busy, happy month for CJ Martin.
For the first time, Martin witnessed teacher in-service, family orientation, and the students arriving for their first half-day of the new year at St. Joseph School from the principal’s perspective.
Although he taught here from 2006 to 2010, he spent the last five years as principal of a Catholic pre-K through eighth grade school in Athens, Georgia. He returns to St. Joseph with a fresh vision and a different set of skills.
“Everyone was incredibly welcoming and supportive of me coming back, but also, of me coming back in a new capacity,” said Martin. “The family feeling that was here when I was here five years ago is still very prevalent amongst our community. As soon as the announcement was made, parents started reaching out to me saying, ‘Congratulations’ and ‘We can’t wait until you’re back.’”
Despite the open arms, transitioning into the role of boss to people who were previously peers can be challenging. Martin acknowledges that there was some anxiety about this when he interviewed with St. Joseph’s search committee, and the church’s pastor, Father Tomy Joseph, M.S.F.S. However, those initial jitters seemed to fade away with the warm reception.
“I think part of it is that the faculty has continued to grow here at St. Joseph, but also that I did have five years of experience as a Catholic school principal somewhere else,” explained Martin. “I am bringing some new experiences and some new ideas back to the community that I was very happy to be a part of.”
There are other challenges. Martin has the distinction of being St. Joseph School’s first lay principal. The position at St. Joseph became open when Sister Maria Goretti, O.P., resigned last summer and the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, who have provided a principal for the school since its inception more than 60 years ago, didn’t have a sister available to replace her. Father Tomy and the search committee made the decision to hire Martin.
“The Dominican Sisters’ presence at St. Joseph cannot be replaced or overstated,” Martin said. “For over 60 years, their image is what is linked to the history and tradition of our school. I don’t know that I can live up to that image. Thankfully, I was here under a couple of great principals, and I really got to see what they did that helped make this place tick and work in a smooth and efficient way. I can only hope to build on the tradition, and honor what they’ve put into the principal’s office.”
St. Joseph will certainly benefit from Martin’s years in Athens. There, he was involved in a capital campaign to fundraise and build a new school campus, everything from helping design aspects of the classrooms, to writing grants for a synthetic, all-weather soccer field. He managed an annual budget of around $2 million, evaluated staff and faculty, and was an active member in the larger church community by serving on the parish council and working collaboratively with the faculty and the school’s advisory body.
“So the biggest lessons were learning about school finances, and also managing relationships among faculty, and amongst faculty and parents,” said Martin. “I have to make sure that everybody has a voice, and that we’re listening to the needs of our students, and making sure that’s what our decisions are based on – what is best for our kids.”
According to Martin, what’s best for the kids may be boosting enrollment, a necessary objective for many Catholic schools across the country. “Putting more students that are academically capable of keeping up with our curriculum in the seats allows for more opportunities for all of our students,” said Martin. “Building our enrollment allows us to build an even stronger academic program.”
Martin is optimistic in this regard. He believes St. Joseph is in a great spot in the community at large. He sees the area around the school growing, in fact “booming” with young families and families with children who will be seeking superior academic environments. “So I do think there are some opportunities for us to pay attention to,” said Martin.
He’ll be paying close attention to some other first year goals too. He’s hoping to enhance the relationship between the St. Joseph parish and school, and to extend the school’s outreach to the broader community.
“There’s nothing that I’m looking to overwrite right away,” Martin said. “In talking with our parents and our teachers, our faculty is one of our strong points. The instruction that they provide our students is of a very high quality. So, trusting in our teachers in the classroom is something that I’m looking forward to just watching, and seeing the great work that they’re doing across the board.
“It’s very exciting to be returning to a community that was so open and welcoming the first time, that was so generous to me as a teacher in my early and middle 20s,” continued Martin. “To come back as an administrator and principal in my early to mid-30s, is a neat and fun experience. I’m just looking forward to a really positive and fantastic first year.”