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Intellectual Contribution/Faculty Tribute Award Recipient: Antonio "TJ" Martinez, SLP'08

      Tj MartinezWhile growing up in South Texas, Antonio "TJ" Martinez Jr., was always keenly aware of justice issues behind instructional and administrative leadership for low socioeconomic, immigrant children. So, when it came time for Martinez to become a school leader, he knew he needed a graduate experience that emphasized both academics and field work. Impressed by HGSE's emphasis on leadership for school equity, closing the achievement gap, and strategic and business planning to fund such initiatives, Martinez was convinced that earning his degree from the Ed School provided his future students and faculty with the best prepared and trained administrator possible.

"TJ exemplifies what we seek in all School Leadership Program (SLP) students as future school leaders. He leads by his example," says SLP Director and Professor Thomas Hehir. "As a person with tremendous intellectual gifts, including an earned law degree at Boston College, he has dedicated himself to opening schools for immigrant children through the Jesuit order. A man of deep humility and possessed with an infectious sense of humor, he has truly been the glue that has held the students in the program together this year."

Upon being honored with the Intellectual Contribution/Faculty Tribute Award for the School Leadership Program, Martinez answered some questions about his time at the Ed School and beyond.

Did you have a favorite class?
Going to Harvard was like being a kid in a candy store. My eyes widened as I perused the professors and course offerings, knowing that I would be taught by the leading researchers and practitioners in the field. And just like that candy store kid, the most painful part of choosing was not being able to choose something, not because I didn't want to take it, but because there were only so many hours in the day (and alas, I was unable to alter the time dimension while here). Given this, I would point out two courses which "knocked my socks off." The first was [Lecturer] Kitty Boles' Teaching and Learning class I took over the summer and which gave me a head's up on what was to come and what the year would be like. Assigned a literal foot of readings, I was quickly brought up to date and speed on practically every issue on instructional leadership and the most current research behind it. Adding to the incredible content was Professor Boles' unending energy and love both for her subject matter and her students - an incredible introduction and orientation to an incredible graduate program.

The second was [Senior Lecturer] Jim Honan's Managing Financial Resources in Nonprofit Organizations course I took second semester. Dreading anything having to do with numbers and understanding myself more as a "big picture" guy, Honan's systematic, clear, engaging and fun-loving approach to teaching exactly how to be a strategic school leader, with your mission in one hand and your financial statement in the other, not only dissipated my lifelong fear of "financial books," but just as importantly gave me a skills set I was very confident using (and even, God help me, enjoyed) when dealing with all issues involved in leading a school. His course is also a must. For both classes and professors, I will be eternally thankful.

What are your plans for life after HGSE?
I have been selected as the founding president of a private, faith-based, reduced-tuition college-preparatory high school in Houston called Cristo Rey Houston Jesuit Academy. This school targets families who live on or below the poverty line, in the inner-urban part of the city which houses many minority and immigrant children. The goal for Cristo Rey (part of the Cristo Rey Network which runs about 12 similar schools across the country) is to get kids off the streets and into college, as well as to have them start thinking about a professional career. In order to do this (as well as in order to help defray the costs of their education), the students work one day a week at corporations in Houston, including law offices, accounting firms, doctors' offices, and even other schools. In turn, these corporations pay salaries to these students that in part go to pay for their tuition. These are literally "schools that work" as the network notes. In order to make up that one day during the week when they go to work, students go for a longer school day (from 7:30 a.m. - 5 p.m.) and have a longer school year. Results from the other Cristo Rey schools have proven the model works with kids who at one time were lead gang members, involved in violence or drugs and are now being accepted and going to universities like Georgetown, Brown, and Boston College, many with full scholarships. I like to use the phrase, "from the barrio to the boardroom" precisely because the Cristo Rey schools have helped so many urban, low socioeconomic kids turn their lives around and my goal is to provide nothing less to the inner-city children of Houston.

What is something that you learned at HGSE that you will take with you throughout your career in education?
One of my professors, [Lecturer] Karen Mapp, has a poster on her door. Without going into the details, at the top of the poster is one person calling for change. This person is usually branded as crazy. At the bottom of the poster are many people calling for change. This is considered a mandate. I have always worked and understood schools as top down organizations with one or two school leaders setting policy and giving orders from the principal's office as they trickled down to teachers, students, and parents. While this might be a reality in many schools across the country, the most important lesson I take away from my graduate studies experience centers on replacing this model of leadership with one that focuses on collaboration and empowerment. It is a model of school leadership where getting every voice involved in the process of teaching and learning matters and where every voice has the potential to contribute to bettering the educational process for all children. Shared and distributed leadership, which seemed to be a major theme trumpeted by every professor at HGSE, both inspired me and gave me a new framework to understand and re-envision the very nature of how schools ought to operate and how I can implement that way of proceeding as a school leader. Giving (and expecting) people to take up their share in making our educational system better and giving them the structure and capacity to do it, has become a repeated mantra as my own educational philosophy, pedagogy, and leadership have greatly evolved during this very quick year. Schools understood as communities of diverse and collaborative leaders and learners, poised to continually search for, implement, and asses just how teaching and learning are helping our students achieve (academically, morally, and emotionally), have become the schools I intend on instituting, leading, and championing in the future.

How did you stay inspired throughout the year?
While being at Harvard's Graduate School of Education can be inspiration enough, I would also mention the faculty and my colleagues in the School Leadership Program as deep sources of inspiration. From the first day of school I found myself mixing with one of the most talented and intelligent group of people, from across the globe, from different creeds and cultures, all congregating at this one school to lead educational institutions and systems that benefit all children. Many, I well imagined, could easily be taking high paying corporate jobs or become involved in other professions that would likely be more financially lucrative and would involve less work. And yet, the sacrifices many of the people at HGSE have made provided me deep consolation and moved me greatly during this entire year as they take education and the challenge of school leadership not simply as a job, but more profoundly as a mission and vocation vital in today's world.