WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (WGHP) — A growing number of Hispanic families are moving to North Carolina, and educators are making sure those students who enroll in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools feel seen.
Dr. Nancy Martinez is one of the principals leading the charge at Career Center High School. You can find her on any given day walking the halls with her 1,900 kids.
“We’ve done some great things here, we’ve updated CTE programs, we’ve gotten funding to revamp our aeronautics program, our AP program is flourishing and last year 90% of our kids scored higher than national and global averages,” said Dr. Martinez.
Dr. Martinez sees her school as a bridge, for kids to have plenty of options to get to where they want to go.
Perhaps the biggest changes and impact she’s made in her almost four years at the school are the things you can’t measure, like representation.
When she took the job, she became the first Latina principal in the district, and she currently holds the title of Principal of the Year.
“I was like oh man, the pressure, because I want to make sure I’m not the only one for long, I want to open doors for others,” said Dr. Martinez. “I love that my Latino and minority students see people in leadership here.”
She’s working to increase the enrollment of kids of all colors and backgrounds at the Career Center. they’ve seen a 28% increase in Latino students taking advantage of AP and CTE classes.
“I think they need a judgment-free zone sometimes when they’re here, but I do provide a lot of love and support for them emotionally,” said Dr. Martinez.
A judgment-free zone was something Martinez didn’t always get.
The Puerto Rican native moved to the United States to attend Marquette University. She realized she wanted to work with kids and knew through counseling she could connect with kids on a deeper level.
“I actually got the highest score in my class on the certification test to be a guidance counselor,” said Dr. Martinez. “They accused me of cheating because they didn’t think that a non-native speaker can outscore native speakers.”
It was the first of many moments Dr. Martinez knew she had to advocate for herself and find allies to stand with her. As she sat in front of a board at Marquette University and explained how and why she didn’t cheat, an ally stood up for her.
“I sat down, and the Dean of the School of Education interrupted the meeting and said I’m going to stop this, Nancy is going to graduate, you should all be ashamed of yourself,” said Dr. Martinez. “I tell that experience to kids because had I not had the presence of mind to reach out to someone that believed in me…I would have been dismissed and shamed from the program.”
Her goal is to lift students of all backgrounds and colors up, and she wants each teacher and administrator to do the same.
“We’re starting to do a better job at seeing differences as normal and not as outliers, that’s what makes us different, makes us stronger because we all can leverage that to help each other out,” said Dr. Martinez.
Dr. Martinez is also serving on a committee for Winston-Salem/ Forsyth County Schools funded by a grant from the Wallace Foundation to explore how to attract a more diverse teaching staff. She is heading to a nationwide conference on the topic in New York City later this year.