New principal joins Northeast team
ORWELL TOWNSHIP - A special photo hangs on Gary Martell's office wall. It shows a baseball player - the great Roberto Clemente.
A right-fielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Clemente did it all ... National League and World Series MVP, 12 Gold Gloves, the All Stars 15 years, 3,000 hits. And the Hall of Fame.
But Clemente did more. Gary notes he was a humanitarian, and the star personally delivered food and baseball equipment to needy people in his native Puerto Rico and other Latin American countries. In 1972, he died in a plane accident taking supplies to Nicaragua after an earthquake. He was only 38.
There's a "lot of history on Roberto Clemente," Gary says. He was a "great guy."
Clemente is Martell's hero. And that's not surprising. After all, he has much in common with the baseball player - he's part of a team, a team working hard to succeed, and he wants to help others.
Martell's the new Northeast Bradford High School principal. Formerly an assistant principal in the Towanda School District, he started his new position this month and is busily preparing for opening day, all the while guided by a sort of motto at the school: "excellence in education."
"The transition's been really smooth," Gary says one day in his office. Easygoing and friendly, he wears a polo shirt and sits at a meeting table instead of the desk. The giant senior class key hangs on the back of a door, and the tops of the walls are painted maroon, a school color. Across the office, a Northeast visor cap drapes over a picture frame.
"Without focus, even the best leadership ideas will fail," reads part of a Doug Reeves quote on the wall. A Steelers mug sets on a filing cabinet. "I thought everybody was a Steelers fan!" Gary says slyly.
Born and raised in a rural, farming area about 25 miles from State College, Gary attended West Branch High, the size of Bradford County's smaller districts. An avid sports fan, he played football, basketball and baseball.
His class had 106 students. "We had a bigger class!" he insists with a laugh. Today, they graduate in the 70s.
His dad worked for Piper Aircraft then Penelec and his mom, as a manager at a Kay Jewelers. Gary's the youngest of four kids. His dad, on the other hand, was one of 10 children and his mom, one of 13. "So I come from a large extended family!" he declares.
Gary attended Lock Haven University, majoring in elementary education and minoring in math. People who influenced his childhood, he says,
"I think propelled me into education." His mother, too, was a big influence. "My mom was strong-willed," he says, and a hard worker.
He and his college sweetheart, Amy, married soon after graduation and moved to Illinois, where she taught and he worked as a full-time substitute teacher and baseball coach. But "it was just so far from our homes and family," he says, so they moved to Bradford County.
Gary took a position in Towanda as a seventh-grade math teacher, becoming the department head, and Amy taught English and Spanish in Canton High School. Today, she's a curriculum coordinator for BLaST, spending much of her time at Northeast. (Gary and Amy live in LeRoy, and her parents are Richard and Betty Neff of Canton.)
In the meantime, administrators in Towanda encouraged Gary to go into leadership. He earned a master's from Wilkes University and his principal's certificate from California University of Pennsylvania.
Today Gary names people who influenced his career, Towanda administrators like Steve Gobble, Dennis Peachey and Elaine Talada (Sheridan).
"Elaine always had the focus ... the focus of educating kids first," he says. "It's all about what kids are learning with Elaine. ...
"Dennis is the master of people relationships," he adds. From him, Gary learned about motivation and relationships.
Gary served as assistant high school principal under Peachey for a year.
"It was great, just because I was comfortable," he says. Being a math teacher helped him know how to apply data and research findings to his job.
Then the door at Northeast opened. Was he ready? Gary wasn't sure. But he did like Superintendent Heather McPherson's vision of education and the approaches already in place there. He made the leap.
"I'm thrilled to have Mr. Martell here and I am very excited about what he brings to the job," McPherson states. She praises his leadership and ability to build relationships with students, explaining Northeast focuses on a "best-practices" teaching approach that encourages teachers to bring elements of other classrooms' lessons into their own.
"I've met probably 40 percent of the community!" Gary says. The people are "friendly, outgoing folks." He's held seventh-grade orientation and met some athletes - the girls' soccer team insisted he should bring them food!
"Change is always difficult," he admits. But helpful, supportive people make it easier and everyone at Northeast has been cooperative, he says.
Gary and Amy have two sons, Mason, a freshman at Canton, and Kaden, a seventh-grader, and one daughter, Carmya, starting fourth grade. Gary's coached Little League and youth football, but today he and Amy focus more on their kids' specific activities. "Whatever our kids decide to do ... that's been our primary interest," he says.
They "keep us very busy!"
One of the family's favorite hobbies is fishing. They spend a lot of time in Canada each summer, and photos of the boys with prize fish set near the table. Gary himself? Well, he's more of the hook baiter and boat driver, he notes with a laugh. Amy? She takes along a book.
But now when summers end, he'll be heading to his new school, at Northeast. He has a lot of goals there.
"The direction of focus is such ... I want to be part of their vision," he says. That vision is "excellence in education ... wherever I'm needed." He wants to be on the team.
Roberto Clemente would be proud.