Friday, May 07, 2021

Person of the Week

Martineau Takes the Lead for Westbrook Schools

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Kristina Martineau, Westbrook’s new superintendent of schools, says she’s excited about the direction the district is taking. Photo courtesy of Westbrook Public Schools

Kristina Martineau, Westbrook’s new superintendent of schools, says she’s excited about the direction the district is taking. (Photo courtesy of Westbrook Public Schools )

As a child, Kristina Martineau loved to play school but, perhaps counterintuitively, preferred the role of student.

Kristina is the new superintendent of schools for Westbrook, a role she began this past Dec. 1. A former teacher who moved into the administrative side of education, her career has been fueled by her personal love of learning.

“I was continuously enrolled from kindergarten straight through to my doctorate,” which she earned at the University of Hartford in 2018, she says, and “always had at least one class I was taking, working on a degree.”

A Connecticut native, Kristina and her family moved with her father’s job to Florida and New Jersey and then back again to Branford. As an English major at Loyola University in Baltimore, she did a junior year abroad at the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne in England, then, after graduating, returned to Newcastle for a master’s degree in English.

She then found a job at a boarding school in the town of Romsey in Hampshire County, where she taught U.S. history and world religions to students from 10 to 12 years of age.

“I lived in the boarding school and I loved it,” she says. “That’s when I knew that I had to do something in education.”

She considered both college teaching and high school teaching and, while she no longer felt like a tourist in Britain, knew that it would be far too difficult to find work outside of privately run schools. So she returned home.

She was hired first as an adjunct professor in English Sacred Heart University, where she was pursuing her master’s degree in teaching, and then by Fairfield Warde High School (FWHS), which is structured very much like an English school, with a headmaster, “three housemasters, which are assistant principals; three deans; [and] nine school counselors.

“It has a boarding school structure without the boarding school part,” she explains. At the time, the school seemed to hire teachers who had international backgrounds. “I was picked up very quickly because I was teaching at the university and I think because I had that background from England.”

She managed to juggle her master’s program, adjunct college teaching, and high-school teaching: She obtained her master’s degree in 2002 and continued teaching at Sacred Heart through May 2004. Then in 2007, she became FWHS’s dean of students at Pequot House, one of the school’s three houses, which serve as schools within the school. (FWHS has roughly 1,500 students.)

“I realized as a teacher that I don’t sit still,” she says. “So it was like...what can I do to not just create an amazing classroom for my kids and give them what they need? How can I contribute to the school community? Put me on a committee; put me to work—I like talking, I like planning things for the future, I like improving things, so that’s where the leadership aspect came in...I jumped into the teacher leadership track pretty quickly.

“I don’t think I saw...the top of my dining room table for like five years,” she says, noting with a laugh that it was always covered with lesson plans and papers.

“I always want to be a part of contributing to making programs and opportunities and improving experiences for kids,” she continues. “I learned as a teacher leader [that] I love doing that for my colleagues as well.”

Mentoring other teachers became a focus as associate principal of Valley Regional High School (VRHS) in Region 4, a position she began in July 2008.

“I love mentoring teachers who think they might want to be administrators; I love mentoring administrators to improve their practice,” she says, adding that a crucial part of mentorship is getting to know the person one is mentoring and what they’re passionate about.

“[E]verybody has passions, and you have to figure out what that is, and then engage them, whether they’re 14 or 44,” she says. “And then you pull them into that work.”

Moving to Region 4 introduced her to an important mentor of her own: Dave Russell, the de facto head of Westbrook’s marine patrol, the deputy harbormaster, and a former town constable.

“He was the principal of John Winthrop [Middle School] when I was the assistant principal at the high school,” she says. “And he absolutely mentored me in my early 30s.

“My father died when I was young...first year of marriage, before I had kids,” she recalls. “Dad made all these sacrifices to put me through all this schooling and...he didn’t get to see the results of his investment.

“And Dave Russell, I’ve always looked to him, whether he realizes it or not, as kind of this dad replacement,” she continues. “He’s just been so good to me.”

Kristina says she hopes to replicate some of the work Dave did after retiring as principal, when he served as an educational consultant to Whelen Engineering Co.

VRHS “started offering manufacturing classes,” she explains. “The kids would intern at Whelen,” which offered expertise on “what the school needed to improve that partnership.” Dave “built an incredible program.”

Westbrook’s school system has already began forging a path in career and college readiness with the support of former superintendent Patricia A. Ciccone and the Westbrook Economic Action Initiative (WEAI), led by Andy Schatz, Jim Crawford, and Tony Cozza.

“[T]his community has invested a lot of time and effort into moving Westbrook High School in that direction,” Kristina says. “And it was a key area of interest for me and why I applied here.”

She had been promoted to principal of VRHS in 2011 and became assistant superintendent of schools for Region 4 in 2015.

“Westbrook is on the cusp of doing some pretty cutting-edge work in the area of college and career pathways and manufacturing,” she says.

In 2019, thanks to fundraising on the part of the WEAI and contributions from the town, local businesses, and organizations, Westbrook High School (WHS) hired its first career/college readiness coordinator, Leslie Carson.

“We have the Lee Company and lots of small manufacturers in the area,” Kristina continues, noting that the efforts of Leslie and others mean WHS is “able to partner with local businesses and to keep expanding those partnerships...and not just for our kids, but for some of their parents as well.”

In the coming years, Kristina plans to expand the opportunities for WHS students to areas like hotel and resort management and tourism, with possible internship opportunities at Water’s Edge. She is also hoping to offer a robotics course for kids interested in manufacturing and engineering.

“That’s work that this community has invested in,” she says. “But it was an important part of why I wanted to be the superintendent here—to continue that work and to help launch it...I can’t take credit for any of that.” Her job, as she sees it, is “to support that work and to remove obstacles...so that this can be the best that it can be for Westbrook.

“[W]e’re in the process of taking a look at every single department, every single cross-course offering, through the lens of college and career pathways to determine, what can we revise and what do we need to add?” she explains. “It’s exciting. It’s a really, really exciting time to be in Westbrook in particular. And have the support of the community. This is clearly something that they deeply care about.”


Aviva Luria covers news from Old Saybrook and Westbrook for Zip06. Email Aviva at a.luria@shorepublishing.com.

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