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Committed to lead
Incoming Gainesville Middle School principal Ken Martin looks to take the school to the next level
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Ken Martin talks with a group of Gainesville Middle School students in the school's cafeteria. - photo by Tom Reed

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Ken Martin visits with students and teachers at Gainesville Middle School, where he will be principal in the fall.

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Ken Martin talks about plans for a new Sixth Grade Academy.
GAINESVILLE — Education ran in the family and would overcome him as well.

But Ken Martin didn’t know that as a Mercer University graduate with a biology degree. He pursued another career — fiber-optics testing for AT&T — before he discovered his true calling.

"The group I worked with was the one that set up the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles," he said.

"It was good money. It was nice, but I’m a people person. I enjoy the interaction with people. I enjoy the interaction with kids."

Good thing too, as he’ll be interacting next school year with 1,300 or more students at Gainesville Middle School, as their new campus principal.

The Gainesville City Board of Education voted in February to appoint Martin, 46, to the position, moving him from his job as principal of Gainesville High School’s Freshman Academy.

"He has made a significant difference in building the foundation for success for ninth-graders at GHS," said Gainesville High’s campus principal, Mike Kemp.

"Though we are taking one for the (city school system) team, we realize GHS will be the beneficiary of his leadership as he takes GMS to a new level."

Martin fills a position that has been vacant since Mike Schlabra left the system after the 2006-07 school year.

He began his education career at Pinckneyville Middle School in Norcross, after going through a period of soul-searching.

He had considered a career in teaching and coaching but said he wasn’t ready to head that way. At the time, he was forging a career in an advancing field of research.

Martin’s mother, a retired Gwinnett County teacher and national president for 15 years of the Beta Club honor society, encouraged him. "Her quote was, ‘You’ll know in your heart if you’re meant to be a teacher.’"

Two years later, he told his mom, "I know what I want to do."

After Pinckneyville, Martin headed for Griffin, where he helped open Spalding High School as athletic director and head girls basketball coach.

He returned to Gwinnett County schools and worked as a middle school administrator. Martin then left for Gainesville High School, where he taught science and helped coach the girls basketball team.

David Shumake, associate superintendent for the system, helped bring Martin to Gainesville High.

"He is an outstanding educator and works well with all students," Shumake said.

Martin has spent the past two years as Freshman Academy principal at Gainesville High School.

"Now I’ve got a wonderful opportunity ahead of me," he said of his new post.

In the interim, he is splitting time between time between the middle and high schools.

"I try to come up here a couple of hours and get to know the staff," he said. "Visibility is a key in any school, so (I’m) introducing myself to the kids and meeting the staff personally, individually."

Martin faces a couple of big jobs at GMS, particularly starting up the Sixth Grade Academy in the fall and moving into a new $35 million school off Jesse Jewell Parkway in the fall of 2009.

As part of his duties, he will oversee the Sixth Grade Academy. The school has three other academies — Earth Quest, Humanities and Classical Studies — with principals heading them.

"I think that’s going to be a great opportunity," Martin said. "Just like there’s a transition between middle school and high school, there’s a great transition between elementary and middle."

He faces one other possible challenge — curiosity about his commitment to the job.

Leadership stability has been lacking this decade at Gainesville Middle. Martin is the school’s fifth principal since 2001.

"I don’t make any decisions quickly. ... I look at this as a marriage of sorts. I want a commitment on both sides," he said.

"Senior staff and the board of education have made a long-term commitment to me and, in turn, I’ve made that to them."

Martin said that with all his children in the system next year and one child headed to the middle school in four years, he’s not anticipating leaving.

"I want to build something, sort of like I tried to build (a tradition) at the Freshman Academy," he said. "I’m looking to be here for a while."

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