Tuesday, December 2, 2003

Politics sadden retiring leader

By Sue Kiesewetter
Enquirer contributor

In October, Finneytown schools Superintendent Sam Martin became Ohio's first school employee to go through a public hearing about his request to officially retire, then be rehired in the same job.

The law requiring the hearing into the legal, but controversial, practice of drawing a pension while continuing to work in a state job went into effect in September. Martin, a 30-year education veteran, has since withdrawn his request and plans to retire July 31.

Enquirer contributor Sue Kiesewetter recently sat down with Martin for an interview:

Question: What made you decide to retire before your contract expires in 2005?

Answer: I've always planned on retiring after 30 years. . . . When the new retire/rehire law came up, (it) was another option we didn't have. . . . (But) when I put all the pieces together the very best option for me was to retire at 30 years just like I always planned.

Q: Did your decision have anything to do with the turmoil associated with last year's decision to switch from neighborhood schools to grade-level buildings? How is it working?

A: Whenever you change something, there's always going to be folks who don't want to change. By far, the majority of the people I've talked to are saying that their kids love this new reorganization. As parents, they either really supported it from the beginning or those who have been skeptical have now come around to say it's working well and (their) kids love it. Nobody likes to give up a neighborhood school.

Q: What do you like best/worst about your job?

A: The thing that I like absolutely the best is the opportunity to work with the kids and the families. I really enjoy working with parents that are having problems and just don't know what to do with their kids.

. . . The worst part of the job as a superintendent in Ohio is dealing with the politics and trying to convince, to try to educate the public on, what is really happening in terms of school funding. It's not that we're mismanaging money. It's just that we've been getting cut in so many places, so subtly, all the time from the state department.

Q: Where do you think public education is headed?

A: All these charter schools, all the vouchers. The things that are coming out of the federal government and Columbus would tend to undermine public education. I wish those guys up there would say, "OK, we don't like public education so we're going to do everything we can to destroy it." That's what they really intend to do.

. . .If they want to support schools and make public schools stronger, then the decisions they're making in Columbus don't make any sense to me.

Q: Anything you'd like to end with?

A: I just think public education gets a bad rap. But look at what we're doing compared to . . . my mother in a one-room schoolhouse. My grandfather taught high school but never went past the eighth grade.

You never saw a special education kid. You never saw a multiple-handicapped kid. You never saw a hearing impaired kid. They were someplace else. . . . What I hate to see is all this legislation on testing (that) is turning it back (in) the other direction.

The No Child Left Behind Act is just a feel-good thing. It sounds good but we're leaving kids behind all the time and it's not because the teachers aren't trying, because they really are. It's because the politicians and the people who are designing these laws and (are) forcing us to put everybody into little molds that learn at the same time and learn the same amount and show an interest in the same thing. In my opinion, we are definitely leaving kids behind.


New feature

The Enquirer debuts a new education feature, "5 Questions With..." Each week a reporter will sit down with a student, superintendent, a board member, principal or teacher to discuss some aspect of education.

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