Beginning with his time at Teach for America after graduating from college, Kevin M. Martin has always been passionate about making education equitable for all students and helping struggling students succeed. His lessons from his time there are ones he still applies now, as the assistant principal for Curriculum and Instruction at Hazelwood Northwest Middle School.
“Teach for America opened my eyes to ideas and opportunities that I would not have known about,” Martin said.
Teach for America aims to decrease educational inequality in public schools by hiring high-achieving graduates to teach in low-income school districts for two-year terms. Not all Teach for America alumni remain in the education field, but Martin, who started out teaching math and business education in the St. Louis Public School District, has.
“Since third grade, I wanted to be a teacher,” Martin said.
Martin’s parents were small business owners, so he set out to teach the skills they had used to become successful entrepreneurs. For much of his career, he has taught math and business classes and worked to find successful strategies to raise achievement scores. However, there is more to addressing low test scores than just numbers, especially in a school where many students are from communities confounded by poverty and lack.
“Mental health is a very significant struggle that our students are facing at higher rates than before,” Martin said. “A lot of our students come from trauma and have had traumatic backgrounds.”
That can mean a number of things, from witnessing violence in their communities to dealing with the breakup of a family due to divorce. Martin said schools need to find ways of addressing students’ individual concerns and take mental health into account when addressing their academic or behavioral problems.
At Hazelwood Northwest Middle, Martin addresses this through Positive Behavior and Intervention Support (PBIS), which aims to understand students’ difficulties rather than immediately punishing them.
“They make sure we figure out what the issues and concerns are so we can address the problem,” Martin said. “We try and figure out, what is the reason and function of their behavior?”
By addressing “the extra things that our students come to school with”, Martin said, educators can make a real impact on their academic success.
Martin also serves on the Board of Trustees at St. Louis Community College. The board, which consists of seven members, is tasked with making policies for the college, hiring and evaluating the chancellor and approving the annual budget.
Martin said he decided to run for the elected position due to his “passion for making sure all students have options in high school.” He works to expand programs that allow students to take dual enrollment courses in high school for college credit and even graduate with dual degrees.
Despite his later accomplishments, Martin said some of his proudest moments still come from the students he taught in math classrooms, when his “M Cubed” – Martin Math Masters students tell him about their accomplishments in college.