116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — New Grant Wood Elementary School Principal Maria Martin was the first child in her family to graduate from high school in Chicago, and now she is the first Latina principal in the Iowa City Community School District.
Martin, 49, was a dean at West High School for 15 years before transitioning to Grant Wood Elementary School interim principal last fall. She was approved as principal in March.
“I hope Grant Wood can be a model of supporting students’ academic growth,” Martin said. “Students are growing in reading, writing, math and critical thinking skills, but also in being kind and responsible toward each other.”
Martin wants all students to feel secure to express themselves, develop the confidence to take learning risks, feel motivated and be excited to try something new.
She is invested in incorporating social and emotional learning, culturally responsive teaching and restorative practices at Grant Wood.
Martin’s family moved from Mexico to the U.S. when she was 3 years old. She grew up on the south side of Chicago with her parents and six siblings.
As the fourth child, Martin saw her older siblings complete their GED, the equivalency of a high school diploma. She said she never expected to formally graduate high school, let alone continue to college.
“When my three older siblings didn’t get to graduate from high school in the traditional sense, I did believe I also was going to be dropping out, and maybe doing something other than going to college and having a career,” Martin said.
But teacher Bernard Rosentein, whom she still keeps in touch with, believed in her.
“I got to talk to him about life, and he helped me with a lot of the legwork of what it takes to get to college,” Martin said.
He helped her navigate college applications and helped her apply for financial aid.
She credits him with helping her get into the University of Iowa, where she graduated with a degree in linguistics and education. She decided to pursue teaching English Language Learning.
“I came from a bilingual household and saw the challenges of learning English as an additional language,” Martin said.
After graduation, she taught first grade in Georgia for a year before life circumstances took her back to Mexico. There, she taught English as a foreign language for two years.
“My goal as a language teacher was not to minimize one language and enforce the other,” Martin said. “It was truly to generate multilingualism.
“Often we forget, hopefully we do not, that some of our (English Language Learning) families in the U.S. come knowing two or three or more languages.”
When Martin returned to Iowa, she went back to school to get a master’s degree in linguistics. She also began working for the Iowa City Community School District.
Administration appealed to Martin because she saw it as an opportunity to have a greater impact on education, she said.
As a dean, Martin said she worked to mentor students and was the faculty adviser for a student group — Successful Students Inspired through Knowledge, Education and Diversity.
“We talked about what it meant to be a part of a diverse community, view leadership from a diverse, community perspective, and how to celebrate diversity,” she said.
Then the pandemic began in March 2020, and students were unable to return to school for the rest of the year. That summer, Martin watched the Black Lives Matter movement gain momentum after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
It felt like a pivotal point in her life, Martin said.
“I have this view that we should not have to look for reasons why someone offers worth to this world or why they are of value,” Martin said. “George Floyd and all the other individuals lost — women, men, young people — we play detective at the loss of a life to say how sad the loss was.
“I’m a believer that everyone — just because they exist — is valuable,” Martin said.
That’s how Martin treats the staff and students she works with, she said.
“I have a responsibility to nurture conversations with kiddos who pop into my office who say, ’I want to be a principal when I grow up.’ I want to let them know it’s all possible.”
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