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In Kids & Family

Nancy Martinez is spending summer days in her office, but says she expects to be out in the halls and the classrooms once school starts.

Energetic Martinez positioned well to lead Kagel School into the future

On Sept. 1, new principal Nancy Martinez will stand outside Kagel Elementary in Walker's Point to welcome her kids to school.

"I am going to roll out the blue carpet for the students," says Martinez with the kind of enthusiasm that seems to surround her like an aura. "Blue is our (school) color but it is also the color of advanced proficiency. So we can say we want all the kids to go to blue.

"They will see the teachers ... we'll make it really, really festive and show that we're glad that they're here."

Martinez is one of more than 50 new principals taking over at Milwaukee Public Schools this school year. That's a new principal in nearly one of every three district schools.

When MPS superintendent Dr. Gregory Thornton talks of this being an exciting new era, and a new opportunity for MPS – as he has on a number of occasions – he's clearly got talented, exuberant folks like Martinez in mind.

But don't think for a second that the first day of school will be Martinez's first day on the job. You could say she started the day she applied for the position.

When I meet her in her office on a rare temperate day in July, she's hard at work. She's working full days all summer long to get her staff, her school and herself off to a good start.

Building engineer Bob Howell lets me in and Martinez comes, literally, running out of the office to meet us. When I marvel at the energy, Powell quips, "she's always running."

Martinez says, "I can't imagine a better school to be in, better kids to serve, a better community to be a part of. I'm ready to work. I'm excited about meeting my kids. And I swear to you that I'm not lying. You can see it.

"I'm a pretty hyperactive person. I'm always running. And I have a great, great team with me."

Kagel, built in 1891, is located at 12th and Mineral in the heart of Walker's Point. It sits on high ground and you can't miss it when driving on I-94 and, especially, on the high-rise bridge.

The heavily Spanish-speaking school has an enrollment of around 365 students, more than 98 percent of whom are eligible for free or reduced lunch. And although Kagel is truly a neighborhood school – Martinez says only two buses serve the K-5 school – it has a nearly 20 percent mobility rate, which means one in five students won't stay put for long.

Kagel's fourth graders beat the district average in reading, language, social studies and science proficiency – some subjects by up to 13 percentage points – but lag in mathematics.

Although it has lost P5 and SAGE funding, Kagel only currently has two vacancies: one is a retirement and the other a layoff. Class sizes will rise, but only by five or six per room, says Martinez.

Martinez is taking over for Dr. Hector Perez-LaBoy, who had been at the school for more than a decade, and retired in June, she says. She knows she has big shoes to fill.

"Dr. LaBoy is a beloved member of this community," Martinez says.

And she would know. Because even though she arrives at Kagel from the West Side Milwaukee School of Languages, where she served as assistant principal, her roots are in Walker's Point.

The neighborhood is where Martinez settled when she arrived from Puerto Rico in 1990. And after studying at Marquette, she spent three years at Bruce Guadalupe School – an MPS partner school ­– helping to launch its preschool in 1996 and writing grants.

She was also the CLC (community learning center) academic coordinator at the Latino Community Center for 10 years.

So, even though Martinez applied and interviewed for principalships at ALAS High School, Project STAY, Wisconsin Conservatory of Lifelong Learning and Humboldt Park (she made it to the final round for three schools, which should tell you something about her skills), she had a first choice and it was Kagel.

"(Dr. Thornton) did ask me, 'Where you feel the most comfortable?'," she recalls. "(I said) 'at the end of the day I want to lead kids and educate children, so wherever you think I could be service, I will go. But if you ask me, if I can have make cake and eat it too I would choose Kagel.' He understood."

"I am pleased that our process allowed staff and parents to have a voice," said Thornton in a statement earlier this month. "We worked hard to make good matches between school communities and principal candidates.

"Where an applicant showed a passion for a particular school and had a strong vision of where that school should be in years ahead, we chose that person. Our students will be in good hands."

When she got the job, Martinez was elated.

"First I yelled and screamed, because I know I had my first choice and how many people can say they got their first choice the first time they apply for a principalship? I was (working) at MSL at the time, so it was two minutes of (screams) and then back to work."

She then worked all day at MSL and would spend the evenings getting started at Kagel.

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leprechaunshawn | July 28, 2011 at 4:03 p.m. (report)

This article does a good job of putting a positive spin on the dance of the lemons.

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pepperoni | July 28, 2011 at 11:12 a.m. (report)

She does sound like she will do very well! However, we will have so many new principles that not all will be of this caliper. I like the uniform idea and I think it should be applied at the high school level!

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