In the school library Wednesday, Martinez spoke to members of the district Board of Trustees, local media and community members about the importance of replicating the culture and success Lois Allen has seen in recent years.
“There is a family here. It has been that way since I was here before,” said Martinez, referring to when he was the district’s deputy superintendent from 2009 to 2011. “When you have that type of culture, first of all, kids feel that they’re cared for. When I talk to the kids they talk about how much they like their teachers, how much they love being here and that type of environment is so essential to take us to the next level.”
The next level, a topic Martinez emphasized during his preliminary meetings with the Washoe County community, will be a priority for the new school chief as he takes the reigns of the district’s strategic plan. Martinez will be attending Washoe County schools and meeting with community members during his first days in office, holding public meetings to allow the community to ask questions and express ideas.
Martinez said the improvement WCSD has shown, along with the strategic plan already in place, tells him it is time to look toward the college level and how to funnel students into Nevada higher education.
“We are ready to have that next conversation. We are graduating more of our students but are we giving them options when they graduate?” he said. “How many are getting into the engineering program or pre-medical program at UNR? How many are getting into the biotech program at TMCC?”
Martinez stressed the importance of Washoe County students enjoying the luxury of choice when they finish high school. He said better equipping the students with choices will give them ultimate success in the future.
“I always get the question around the district ‘Should children go to college?’ And I always say, ‘You know, I think that is the wrong question. The question is: Are our children graduating with choices so they have the option to go to college or the military or to into a career?’ ” Martinez said.
The “family” at Lois Allen is a product Martinez helped mold during his previous tenure as deputy superintendent with the WCSD. Heidi Gavrilles was the assistant principal at Lois Allen when her leadership skills caught Martinez’s eye, and she stepped into the principal role shortly after.
“One of our anchor ideas here is that your ZIP code should not determine your destiny in life,” Gavrilles said. “We want to make sure to understand our kids, work with the families and understand what level they are at, both academically and socially, and we work with kids to set goals and give them whatever they need to make that growth.”
Lois Allen, a Title I school, qualifies for supplemental government funds to help the poverty-stricken students. Gavrilles said battling the poor conditions of the school and surrounding area can be difficult, but will not stop her and her staff from raising the bar of success.
“I use that money to get rid of absolutely all of the barriers for teachers,” she said. “If there is a resource you need, we get it. If there is technology that you need, we get it.”
Lois Allen has raised its proficiency rates in math and reading to 74 percent and 65 percent respectively, according to Gavrilles. She said their success has been an indicator of the work she and her staff have put in, but it is by no means reason to slow down.
“The same thing goes for the kids; if there is something you are interested in, we will spend a couple thousand bucks getting library books of what the kids are interested in,” she said. “We try to think about what the kid really wants, what they really need, what their personal goals are and how we can help to meet them.”
Martinez said he plans to continue establishing a culture resembling that of Lois Allen during his time as superintendent. He added that schools such as Lois Allen that qualify for Title I, though they may endure harsh circumstances, have benefits that can be allocated throughout the district.
“(Lois Allen has) some great systems for tracking children and they know where every child is at academically. Every teacher knows, literally, their students and their families,” Martinez said. “That is where we want to target our resources and we have to prioritize our schools, and schools like Lois Allen should be our top priority.”