Episode 1 – Introducing Dr. Martirano
Welcome to the introductory episode of Inside HCPSS, a new podcast from the Howard County Public School System and hosted by our Superintendent Dr. Michael J. Martirano. With our first episode, through conversations with a few of our students, you can get to know Dr. Martirano and our school system on a deeper level.
In this episode, Dr. Martirano interviews two of our elementary school students and hears some of the wonderful things happening in our schools. Following that, the tables are turned on Dr. Martirano as he’s interviewed by one of our middle school students.
Enjoy the two conversations and our first podcast episode!
- Aliyan, first grade
- Lucy, fifth grade
- Madeline, eighth grade
Narrator: Welcome to the Inside HCPSS podcast, a podcast produced by the Howard County Public School System centered around conversations with HCPSS Superintendent, Dr. Michael J. Martirano.
Dr. Martirano was named superintendent for the Howard County Public School System in July 2018 after serving as interim superintendent since May 2017. An educator for more than 35 years and the former State Superintendent of West Virginia, he considers himself a teacher first and foremost.
Dr. Martirano leads HCPSS through his Strategic Call to Action, which places students at the heart of all decisions and serves as the foundation of our system’s work toward ensuring academic success and social-emotional well-being for each student.
He is focused on building strong relationships and trust both in the system and throughout the community, and engages the participation of a wide spectrum of community members, staff and students in helping to take Howard County schools to the next level.
HCPSS is located within Howard County, Maryland, a suburban community of more than 330,000 situated midway along the Baltimore-Washington corridor. It is a county of contrasts — a blend of old and new, urban and rural, both historical and progressive.
The school system serves over 57,000 students, is currently comprised of 77 schools, and consistently ranks among Maryland’s top school districts based on student performance.
As part of this introductory episode, we thought we’d give you a chance to get to know Dr Martirano better. First, he’ll interview two of our elementary school students to find out some of the wonderful things happening in our elementary schools. Then, following that, we’ll turn the microphone back on Dr Martirano as he gets interviewed by one of our middle school students. We hope you enjoy the two conversations.
Dr. Martirano: Welcome, HCPSS community, to my first podcast. I am Dr. Michael Martirano. And I’m looking forward to always new ways and innovative ways to connect with our communities and give our stakeholders more behind-the-scene insights of our school system. I’ll be using this podcast to talk about our current happenings in the school system. Well, while we’re highlighting some of our programs and services, and we invite our students and staff to join us to discuss these experiences. Now, I’ll be honest, I gotta be honest with our community right now, this is the first time I’ve ever done a podcast. And I’m a little new to this. And that’s why I’ve asked a couple of my friends to join me today on what we’re defining as our maiden voyage.
And my first friend today is Aliyan, who is a first-grade student, and Lucy, who is a fifth-grade student in the school system. And both of my friends that I’ve selected today to be a part of this are children of some of our wonderful employees. So, I’m just gonna start right in, considering this is our first time and I’ve got two outstanding friends with me today, I’m gonna start by saying, Aliyan, tell me, how was your day today? Did you have a good day at school?
Dr. Martirano: That’s great. And Lucy, how was your day?
Lucy: It was really good.
Dr. Martirano: Really good. So, I’m really trying to understand a little bit more about the experience that you’re having as students within our school system. So you’re in first grade and you’re in fifth grade. Tell me the things in the first-grade class, Aliyan, that you’re really focusing on. Tell me some of the learning activities that are happening in your school right now in your classroom. Because I’ve visited you a couple of times in your school. Tell me what’s happening there.
Aliyan: We’re doing a lot of writing.
Dr. Martirano: A lot of writing. Okay. Well, we’re gonna build on that in a minute because I’m very curious. Lucy, tell me some things that you’re focusing on right now, in terms of learning activities in your classroom.
Lucy: We’re doing a lot of things on personal narratives and…
Dr. Martirano: Personal narratives. So both of you have already talked about writing. So, tell me about the writing process. Do you like writing, Aliyan?
Dr. Martirano: It’s fun, isn’t it? So when you’re thinking about writing, what are some of the things that you do that help you with the writing process? So, tell me some things that you put on your paper.
Aliyan: It’s like, you can pick a story, like, of something that you did.
Dr. Martirano: Okay. And are you focusing on a particular story right now, something that you’re writing about?
Dr. Martirano: Give me that example. What would that be?
Aliyan: So, we’re doing about an imaginary field trip right now.
Dr. Martirano: An imaginary field trip.
Aliyan: And we start it tomorrow.
Dr. Martirano: Okay, you know what that all the sudden sparked in me because I’m a former science and math teacher was like “The Magic School Bus.” Do you remember that?
Dr. Martirano: I mean, that’s still the… Yeah, your eyes all lit up. “The Magic School Bus” was about this imaginary journey of learning science. And so, if you’re doing an imaginary field trip, that gives you a lot of ways to be creative. So I’m excited to learn more about that. Lucy, tell me a little bit some of the things that you talked about. I believe you said personal narratives, right?
Dr. Martirano: That’s a different style of writing. So tell me about that.
Lucy: So, our teacher usually gives us, like, a layout of what we should do. And usually, we would write ideas first. We always write ideas before we write. And then we pick one of those ideas and we write about it. And we’re told to use a lot of sensory details and things to help the reader really feel like you’re there.
Dr. Martirano: Yeah. I’m already feeling like I’m there because you used the expression sensory details. Tell me what that is. I mean, I’m already excited about hearing more about that.
Lucy: It’s really good details that help you feel like you’re there. So it helps you feel like the reader isn’t just telling you but showing you.
Dr. Martirano: Okay. I don’t wanna put you on the spot but could maybe you give me an example of that?
Lucy: Like, touching, like, you know, this person was in the class with, like… How would I explain this?
Dr. Martirano: It’s good, but the sensory, talking about your senses, and feeling, and touching, and smelling, and all those different things because I really appreciate how you said it makes you feel like you are there. So if I’m the reader of your story, I’m getting a sense of all the different senses about the story. Would that make sense?
Dr. Martirano: Okay. Very good. Well, we’ve talked a good bit about writing. We really jumped in, didn’t we?
Dr. Martirano: Wow, I mean, I’m enjoying this. Are you enjoying this?
Dr. Martirano: This is fun. This is fun. So, through this process, it’s all about communication. We’re doing a great job talking to each other right now. But tell me about some of the interactions that are occurring in school. Tell me some of the things that occur in your school that help you build friendships with your classmates. Lucy, you wanna go first?
Lucy: Sure. So we have this thing in our school, since our mascot is Freddie, the Falcon…
Dr. Martirano: Freddie, the Falcon. Love Freddie, the Falcon.
Lucy: We have this thing called the three R’s. It’s being respectful, responsible, and ready all the time. And also in our learning, like, curriculums, there’s a lot of, like, things to teach about friendship and bullying and all that stuff built into it, because our schools really want to show that friendship is a great thing.
Dr. Martirano: Outstanding. Just outstanding. So she talked about the three R’s. Tell me some things, Aliyan, that you do in your school that helps you build friendships with your classmates.
Aliyan: So, at recess, they have like this bench called the buddy bench.
Dr. Martirano: I love the buddy bench. Tell me more about it.
Aliyan: People sit on it. And if people come to ask you if you want to play with them on the buddy bench.
Dr. Martirano: You have hit so many good things. I like the three R’s that you talked about. And I love the buddy bench. I recently had the opportunity to visit a school that was just installing a new buddy bench. And the students were so excited because they all talked about if there’s like a new student to the school, that that would be a place for them to meet and have a place for them to be included in the overall school and at recess. So thank you for focusing on that. Lucy, one more time, remind me the three R’s what they stood for.
Lucy: Respectful, responsible, and ready,
Dr. Martirano: Responsible, ready, and respectful. Why are those words important? Why do we want students in our school system to be respectful, and ready, and responsible?
Lucy: Well, if you want me to sum it all up, it’s just to have the great life with a lot of friends, to be just a great person.
Dr. Martirano: I love how you use the expression to sum it up. Would you agree, Aliyan, why is it important for us to focus on things like the buddy bench, for example?
Aliyan: Because if you don’t have anyone to play with, you can sit there.
Dr. Martirano: Exactly. So they can be included. So, the other thing that I’m really excited about with this podcast, and you’re the first ones doing this with me, I mean, how exciting is that? But I’m also using this as an opportunity for me to learn more about our school system through the eyes and the experiences of our students. So, as we’ve already talked about these extremely important topics of writing and being included, I’m gonna ask you also, do you have any advice for me as the superintendent of schools as students? Is there things that I should do that would help improve the education for our students? Lucy?
Lucy: Honestly, the three R’s, it’s really good life advice for really anything. So, the three R’s is basically…
Dr. Martirano: So, if I really continue to focus with our principals and our teachers and say, “I want all of our teachers to really create classrooms that are respectful and students are ready to learn, and they’re responsible,” do you think I should really stay focused on that?
Dr. Martirano: Aliyan, what do you think about that? Are there some things advice that you would wanna give me, the ways to improve the way that Lucy just did?
Dr. Martirano: Okay. Well, give me an idea. What do you think?
Aliyan: At our school, we have like this little poster thing that has, like, rules. And it says ‘Road Runner Rules’ on it or I think it might say ‘Road Runner Expectations’ or ‘Road Runner Rules,’ and they’re respectful, responsible, ready to learn, and act with integrity.
Dr. Martirano: Oh, my goodness. I’m learning so much today, road runner rules, the three R’s. You said some of the same things that Lucy said as well, but act with integrity. Oh, that’s a big one.
Aliyan: I know what it means.
Dr. Martirano: Okay. So, you know I was gonna do that, right? So pretend like I don’t know what that is. What does it mean to act with integrity? Notice even how I say it, act with integrity. Go ahead.
Aliyan: Do stuff when the teacher isn’t looking.
Dr. Martirano: So do things in an honest, respectful way, even when the teacher isn’t looking?
Dr. Martirano: So, you know, I’ve oftentimes heard the expression character is what you do when no one is looking. Good character is what you do when no one is looking. And that ties into integrity. Would you agree?
Dr. Martirano: Absolutely. Lucy, what else…? I think you wanted to say something.
Lucy: I was gonna say that act with integrity is actually a really good, like… What I meant just to not tell, you know, to do great things when the teacher isn’t looking. And I think that’s really great.
Dr. Martirano: Yeah, but what you’re both really doing is you’re telling me to really stay focused on the academic pieces of our school, right, reading, writing, math, social studies, science, all those components. And you focused on that with your writing abilities, things you were taught, but then you’ve really focused in on what it means to be a good citizen in our schools. So do you think both those elements are necessary to have a quality school?
Dr. Martirano: Would you agree?
Dr. Martirano: Okay. Well, you know, I know this time is going by very fast. And I did not expect this to go by that fast. And you were the first ones. I’d like to thank you. For one, I’m so impressed with both of you as our two really outstanding students. And I’ve learned a lot today. Have you learned a good bit today, Aliyan?
Dr. Martirano: Okay. How about you, Lucy?
Lucy: Yep, I have.
Dr. Martirano: So, what did you think about this experience being a part of the first podcast?
Lucy: I think it was great. I really learned a lot about how the schools work and, like, you know, buddy benches, and three R’s, and all that kind of stuff.
Dr. Martirano: Yeah. Good stuff. How about you, Aliyan?
Aliyan: It was pretty fun.
Dr. Martirano: Pretty fun. Well, I’m gonna wrap things up. I’d like to say, once again, I’m Dr. Martirano, the superintendent of schools for Howard County Public Schools with two outstanding guests today, friends of mine, Lucy and Aliyan, what a wonderful job.
Narrator: And now for the second conversation as Dr. Martirano answers questions developed by one of our middle school students regarding his work, his personal heroes, and his advice for older students.
Madeline: Hello, Dr. Martirano. My name is Madeline. And I’m an eighth grader at Wilde Lake Middle School. As an introduction to your podcast series, I thought I would ask you some questions so that your audience get to know you better.
Dr. Martirano: This is great, Maddie. Good afternoon to you. And it’s great to see you. And thank you for being a part of this with me today.
Madeline: It’s great to see you too.
Dr. Martirano: Good.
Madeline: I thought first that I would ask you some personal questions if that was all right.
Dr. Martirano: Okay. That’s fine. Absolutely.
Madeline: What drew you towards education as a career, and what continues to excite you about being an educator today?
Dr. Martirano: Well, thank you for that question. I have always been driven throughout my entire life to help people, to help people that are less fortunate, individuals who need assistance. And my whole life is punctuated with moments and constant moments of helping others. And as I had the opportunity to think about my own career, I was naturally drawn to education, as ways to help our students, as ways to help our teachers, as ways to help everyone within our school system do a better job to help support our students.
So, even today, every day, I’m driven as the day is long, to do good things for our students. And that drives me and motivates me to make a difference for our young people. And I’m so energized by the work. And I could not imagine doing anything else with my life.
Madeline: Who are some of your role models and everyday heroes? How have they impacted your approach to your job?
Dr. Martirano: I have a lot of role models. But absolutely my role models are our students and our teachers within our school system that I am just so impressed with what our students do every day. And our teachers, I’ve always as a lifelong educator, have had an affinity and a love for educators. And my role models are the teachers who every day work on behalf of our students to make that difference in their lives.
And I celebrate our teachers. I do everything that I can to support our teachers because my philosophy is that we must take care of our individuals who are working on behalf of our students, we must take care of them so that they can do a better job of taking care of our students. So, I really everyday look to our educators as my heroes, as my role models, as the ones that I work for and with every day to do a better job on behalf of our students.
Madeline: What experiences have influenced, shaped, and inspired your decisions?
Dr. Martirano: Well, a lot of those experiences that shaped my decision-making are predicated and based on real-life experiences. The reality I live in and what I define as a reality-based leadership, where I’m constantly immersing myself in schools. I visit schools regularly, I’m in classrooms, I’m talking to our principals, I’m in community. And I firmly believe that the best learning occurs in community.
And when you’re engaged fully within the community, and you’re listening to the voices of our students, listening to the voices of our teachers, listening to the voices of all of our staff, our parents, and our community, all of that helps shape and frame my decision-making. So that when I’m in schools, the conversations that I have with students, they’re more than just friendly visits, which I want them to be, but I’m asking instructive questions that help me be a better leader as superintendent.
I firmly enjoy listening to the student voices as our student board member represents that at the board of education meetings, because I view that our students are our customers, if we look at a business model. And how can we serve…to lead is to serve, how can we lead our students and serve our students better? And that’s by listening. So, those experiences that are very personal, that are very engaging, really shape my decision-making all day long. And I seek those opportunities throughout my day.
Madeline: Perhaps now we can talk about your job as leader of a large school system. What is your favorite thing about being a superintendent?
Dr. Martirano: Oh, my goodness, my favorite thing, and I think you could probably all predict, is interacting with students and staff all day long. I get my joy, I always seek joy in my life. I’m an optimist and always positive about everything. But I get my true joy is when I’m in community with our students, visiting schools, visiting extracurricular activities, fully immersing myself in the experience. And you could probably see me light up when I was answering that question. Just having you interview me today brings me great joy. So, anytime that I can be together with our students and our teachers is a joyful moment, and that is the best part of my job.
Madeline: Besides COVID, what has been the biggest challenge you faced while being superintendent?
Dr. Martirano: I think that the biggest challenge for me and it constantly drives me is acknowledging that every child needs their own individual plan, that not every child has the resources that supports them in our community and within our family, and how the school system continue to provide additional supports for the children and young people in our community that may not have an abundance of supports in their lives.
And I keep that in front and center and all that we do. The words of which we use when we’re having the conversations is about equity. And making certain that our students, every student, regardless of their background, or experiences, or their life experiences, are entitled to a solid, positive, productive educational process. And all day long, that drives me to do better. And that keeps me up late at night, knowing that some of our young people may not have food in their possession. That, you know, during holiday breaks when people are happy, that some young people may not have that happiness.
And how do we lift that up, acknowledge it, and provide support so that every child has a positive, meaningful experience, and can see themselves fulfilling their goals of graduating, and then going on to be all that they can be in their life? Those are the things that we work hard on every day, that keeps me up late at night, you know, the challenge is for me to do better by every child every day.
Madeline: If you had an opportunity to change one thing about the past few years of being superintendent, what would it be?
Dr. Martirano: Yeah. You’re really hitting a part that’s near and dear to my heart. It broke my heart knowing that when we closed schools for the extended period of time that many young people were suffering in silence because they did not have the opportunities to be with their peers and in classroom. Classrooms are where the best learning occurs, as I keep saying, in community with other students, with their teacher. And it’s been extremely challenging for our students who were involved in virtual learning. We fully acknowledge that.
But now we have to move forward and acknowledge where those challenges were and do everything that we can to provide more support emotionally, for the emotional well-being, the social-emotional well-being of our students, support them in that arena, as well as then scaffold supports for academic initiatives as well so that any regression that occurred in the learning process or emotionally can now be acknowledged and then provide those supports as we move forward. But those last several years have been challenging. We acknowledge that. But as we move forward, we have to have additional supports to make certain that our students are successful and feeling supported all day long.
Madeline: Let’s wrap up with some advice to students. Students have a lot to navigate today, what advice would you give middle school students, high school students, and recent graduates to help prepare for their futures?
Dr. Martirano: Oh, wow, that’s a wonderful question in terms of wrapping things up. What I expect of all of our students, I want you first and foremost to be happy, and I want all of our students to just be good citizens. Do right. I mean, be kind, be compassionate. Exemplify loving values and concern and care for your fellow students within your classroom. I want all of our students to be connected and I want our students to have the advice of being kind to each other. Just treat people with respect and kindness, and how far that will go.
At the same time, I want our students to fully, fully, fully take advantage of the educational opportunities provided by the Howard County Public School System. This is an amazing school system with amazing teachers and amazing young people and take full advantage of that opportunity. Don’t allow that time to be distracted on other things that aren’t productive. Fully take advantage of the learning opportunities. And when you combine the hard work in terms of academic achievement, working hard, and being kind to each other, those words, working hard and being kind will make all the difference.
So, my advice for our students every day as I parse that out, I want you to work hard, I want you to show up, I want your attendance to be outstanding, and I want you to be kind to each other. And when we have that respectful kind of way of operating in the learning community, great things will happen for our student body. So, I really appreciate the opportunity to sum things up by advice for our students.
Madeline: All right. Thank you, Dr. Martirano, for speaking with me today.
Dr. Martirano: Thank you so much, Madeline. I appreciate the time. You did an excellent job in this podcast interview and I’m really proud of you. All the best to you.
Madeline: Thank you.
Dr. Martirano: Thank you.
Narrator: And thank you for joining us and listening to this podcast episode. Stay tuned to future episodes this season where we’ll continue to discuss topics related to the school system and our terrific students and staff.
More information about our school district can be found online at www.hcpss.org.
If you liked this introduction to Inside HCPSS, please subscribe to the podcast in your favorite podcast program or share an episode online at www.hcpss.org/podcast/. Talk to you soon.