ALL ABOUT THE KIDS — Principal James Martinez of Boston Valley Elementary School is pictured with the 21st Century Skills currently being implemented at the Boston school. Photos by Jessie Owen.
BOSTON — Boston Valley Elementary School, a kindergarten – fifth grade school nestled in the Boston hills, welcomed a new principal, James Martinez, for the 2012 – 13 school year.
The Colden resident attended Niagara and Buffalo public schools and graduated from South Park High School. Martinez worked in the medical services field from 1973 – 1991, when he “finally started college.”
After receiving two associate’s degrees from Erie Community College, Martinez began working with at-risk children and eventually found himself at Erie 2 BOCES. “I did a lot of special education subbing,” he said. “I was going to Buffalo State to be a special education teacher and I got a lot of mentoring from the teachers.”
Eventually, Martinez had the opportunity to join BOCES and the New York State Education Department in attacking the low graduation rate in Western New York’s public schools. Springville-Griffith Institute was the third school out of 31 districts to sign up for a program designed to reduce the high school dropout rate. Three classrooms, in East Aurora, at the Fredonia BOCES campus and outside Jamestown, invited students to grow and learn. “I worked with at-risk kids,” Martinez said. “We helped them meet their academic, emotional and social needs.”
In 2003, Martinez began working in the Hamburg School District as assistant principal, having previously earned his school administrator/superintendent certification from Canisius College. “Those kids taught me more than I learned in college,” he said. “Kids teach you a lot.”
After spending almost 10 years in the Hamburg District in various capacities, “I received the opportunity to apply for a job in a town like mine,” Martinez said. He was appointed by the Boston Valley Elementary School Board July 10, effective July 11.
“I have had the distinct pleasure of being appointed the principal on July 11, 2012,” Martinez said, in a message sent to students’ parents. “I have watched the physical metamorphosis of the school since that date. It has been physically improved from a small community school into a 21st century learning institution.”
While the reform agenda may be new to many school districts, Martinez pointed out that, “Everything changes. You have to change, along with it.”
The Partnership for 21st Century Skills “is a national organization that advocates for 21st century readiness, for every student.” According to Martinez, 46 states, including New York, are involved in this initiative, which awards money to school systems to prepare children for a global economy. In his letter to parents, Martinez explained that the organization takes into account four C’s: critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity.
“The Internet has changed school,” Martinez said. “You have to transform the way students work and how they produce. Take a collaborative approach to do what’s best for the children.”
While the new principal said that his school is equipped with all of the tools to help children learn, like Wi-Fi, interactive Smartboards, computer labs and more, “We need to utilize those tools to help the children succeed.
“Nowadays, there’s no time to imagine. There’s no more pretending. Kids are used to instant gratification. There is no more hard work. But school is not easy.”
Part of being a self-proclaimed advocate for the children is Martinez’s support of the Parent-Teacher-Student Association, which he said allows everybody to “work synergistically to do what’s best for the children. We are trying to educate students. We teach students to respect themselves, other people and school property.”
During his first few months at Boston Valley Elementary, Martinez hosted an open house and asked attendees to take a “stakeholder survey” he recently posted online. “I’m a 57-year-old rookie principal,” he said. “I make many mistakes. But I do a lot of listening. I get input from people. I say, never make decisions on your own. Listen to your constituents.”
Saying that he is at Boston Valley Elementary to be a “steward for the taxpayers” and not to change the social atmosphere, Martinez said, “I’m the lead advocate for the children; I want them to get the education that they deserve.”
Martinez said that he challenges his teachers to help their students learn. “I am not a boss. I am a coach,” he said. “What you say is what you mean, and what you mean is what you say. It is my job to get people to be better employees. It’s not all about paper and pencil. It is [asking], ‘Can you apply what you learned today to the real world?’”
Martinez called working with young children “the easiest thing in the world to do. They allow you to be immature. I love learning how they see the world.”
Joining the elementary students in their own element, the cafeteria, allows Martinez to see how the kids interact with each other, outside the classroom. “Discipline is training the mind and character,” he said. “We do not do punishment. We teach behavior. I do not grade children on their behavior. I grade on academics.”
Boston Valley Elementary School is part of the Hamburg School District, which includes North Boston and part of Boston. The school contains 259 students and approximately 60 staff members.
“I want this school to be a positive education model,” Martinez said. “I am not here to browbeat the students. It’s about attitude. These children are full of possibilities. The only thing holding them back is us.
“My No. 1 job is to keep students, staff and visitors safe. If you feel safe, you will learn. This is heaven. I run a no-spin office. I tell the truth.”
Boston Valley Elementary School is located at 7476 Back Creek Road in Hamburg. Martinez can be reached by calling 646-3240.
Visit www.hamburgschools.org/bostonvalley; select the “Please take this survey” tab to participate in Martinez’s stakeholder survey.