Although it was not the path he set out on, in hindsight, incoming Muirlands Middle School principal Geof Martin was seemingly preordained for his new post. He starts in August and succeeds Harlan Klein, who will make the move to The Bishop’s School as its Head of Middle School.
A native San Diegan, Martin and his wife Nancy (a teacher at the La Jolla Methodist Church preschool) have two grown children, Ryan and Kyle, who both attended Bird Rock Elementary, Muirlands Middle, and La Jolla High schools.
“Every principal I worked with asked me if I wanted to be a principal, I always said no,” Martin told La Jolla Light. He said he started in business, right out of high school, and worked his way up through a linen company, never even considering a career in education until his children were born. He got his teaching credential and in 1993 started teaching science at Pershing Middle School in San Carlos.
After 10 years: “I had a chance to work with a curriculum development project at San Diego State’s Center for Research in Math and Science Education,” he explained. “And I really got a chance to see what teaching and learning was really about. How do you engage kids? How do you stimulate their interests? How do you provide them with opportunities to gather information and draw conclusions?”
From there, he joined a middle school leadership team and collaborated on a three-year project called the National Academy for Curriculum Leadership, under the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS) in Colorado Springs.
“BSCS was one of the studies that was founded in the late ’50s in response to Sputnik. There was this big push to make math and science education stronger in the United States so we could compete globally. … BSCS developed this National Academy for Curriculum Leadership, which looks at how systems change and what is a high-quality curriculum, and how to analyze instructional material. We worked on identifying and implementing the inquiry-based science curriculum that is built upon the cycle of how kids learn.”
He added, “In the middle of that work, I saw the opportunity to really change things on a wider scale, not just the kids in my class, but as an administrator.”
As an administrator, he was part of the team that converted Keiller Middle School in Encanto into a charter school — The Keiller Leadership Academy, where he served as vice-principal for two years.
He was recruited by BSCS to promote National Academy for Curriculum Leadership efforts across the country. “It was good work, but it was hard to be away from home and away from the energy of the school,” he said.
He returned to San Diego as a vice-principal at Monroe Clark Middle School in City Heights for one year. “After a year, the district drew a line in the sand when it came to budget issues. One of the big changes was reducing the number of (and moving) vice-principals.
“I had worked with the principal of Pershing Middle School when I was a teacher there. She invited me to come over, so I went over there for three years as a vice-principal,” he said.
From there, Martin moved to Sandburg Elementary in Mera Mesa, where he remained principal for the last seven years.
“For me, the intention of being a vice-principal was not to be a vice-principal, but to become a principal ... to develop skill sets to help me understand what it means to lead a school and be successful.”
A longtime resident of La Jolla — albeit on the edge of La Jolla/Pacific Beach — Martin said he looks forward to working closer to home, and in an engaged community.
“The big thing that leads to a successful school is how a community supports itself. The more parents participate, the stronger it is for kids. For me, it is fundamental to build those relationships, be involved and communicate with people,” he said.
“As educators, we must understand how every child is different and meet their needs and help them grow; education is such a critical part of our society. I think sometimes we take education for granted, what it is and what it does, and how important it is.”
Of the changing of the guard, current Muirlands principal Klein said: “I’m confident that Geof has the experience, leadership qualities and, most of all, the passion for supporting students, staff and the community to be successful in this new principal position. His familiarity with both elementary and middle school environments will be tremendously helpful.
“We’ll be working together on transition plans and he’ll be involved as much as possible before school lets out for students and faculty. I wish Geof success and joy at Muirlands. He should feel proud.”