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Mari Lu Martens 2013 National Distinguished Principal

(St. Paul, MN, May 7, 2013) –
Mari Lu Martens, principal of Sibley East Elementary Schools (Gaylord and Arlington campuses) in the Sibley East Public Schools, and a member of the Minnesota Elementary School Principals’ Association (MESPA), is Minnesota’s 2013 National Distinguished Principal (NDP). MESPA and the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) present the prestigious award, with corporate sponsorship from VALIC.

The NDP program was established in 1984 to honor exemplary elementary and middle school principals who set the pace, character, and quality of education children receive during their early school years. The program highlights the fundamental importance of the school principal in achieving educational excellence for pre-kindergarten through eighth grade students and reinforces their continued leadership in helping children develop a lifelong love of learning. One NDP principal is chosen annually from each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

“It is about doing things right, and doing the right things,” said Martens. “Collectively all of us are responsible for student achievement, from the nourishment provided by food service, to the Problem Solving Team that is monitoring student progress. At Sibley East we are teachers and learners who continue to define and redefine what we know and are able to do.”

“Mari Lu Martens is a true leader," said P. Fred Storti, MESPA executive director. "She understands that trust is what holds a learning community together and she has purposefully built trust at Sibley East. She promotes respectful discussion, self-efficacy in staff, genuine listening, competency, and honesty. In her words, ‘We are not afraid to look in the mirror.’ MESPA is honored to be represented by Mari Lu."

“I have known Mari Lu for over 20 years and worked with her through our mutual membership in the Gaylord Rotary Club,” said Philip Keithahn, chairman and CEO, ProGrowth Bank. “Rarely satisfied with the status quo, Mari Lu and I have often discussed not only ‘how can we do better?’ but ‘how can we provide an affordable and a better educational experience for every student, regardless of income, background or other limitations?’ Mari Lu is a past-president of the Gaylord Rotary Club, a positive contributor and volunteer to many organizations where she has provided leadership, and a terrific role model for young men and women who want to start small, think big, and achieve great goals.”

“Parent and public engagement involves people in dialogue, and we have found that ‘people beat paper’ every time,” said Martens. “Everyone knows that children learn best when the school and home work together. Also, in our community, a majority of our residents do not have children in school; therefore it is vital that a broader base of community involvement be enacted.”

“Mari Lu is one of the most dedicated and passionate administrators that I have encountered in my career,” said James Amsden, principal, Sibley East High School. “She is committed to her work, her staff, her students, and her ideals of quality education. She will not accept excuses like poverty, ethnicity, or faulty indicators to explain test results or the type of programming that can be offered within our schools. Having a clear vision of what quality education looks like, researching and examining data to make decisions about programming, and having committed determination to making her vision a reality, distinguish her work.”

“Mari Lu is a visionary administrator,” said Sara Utendorfer and Sheila Knacke, Sibley East Elementary teachers. “The energy, determination, and perseverance she exhibits have made our school district successful. In fact, we were awarded the 2010 Minnesota Futures award that recognized our success in raising overall student performance and closing the achievement gap in our minority and low-income students. She is the driving force behind our belief in our school that all students can learn.”

Speaking to her three most significant accomplishments as a principal, Martens cited:

·   Raising student achievement and closing the achievement gap. “Gaylord Elementary has 82.2% of its students proficient in reading, compared with a state average of 76%; our English Language Learners scored a proficiency rate of 67%, compared with a state average of 38%; and in the Free and Reduced category, we scored a proficiency rate of 75%, compared with the state average of 60%.

·   Creating a positive school culture. “We’ve created a balance between stability and change, and developing leadership capacity within our system where stakeholders take a collective responsibility for student achievement. We maintain a culture where staff want to come to work and make a difference.”

·   Developing a standards-based system. “At Sibley East we’ve developed a system that prepared students to be college ready by having a defined and honed Response to Intervention system, shared use of data, professional learning communities, clear high standards for all students, fair assessments, innovative curriculum and materials, and instruction that is aligned and connected.”

“Mari Lu understands the challenges that education faces and works to solves those challenges rather than set them aside or ignore them,” said John W. Langenbrunner, superintendent, Sibley East Public Schools. “She brings with her the essential ingredients of being able to look at the needs of the entire district, while being an advocate for elementary education.”  

Marten’s professional activities include: Minnesota Elementary School Principals’ Association (MESPA), membership, 1995-present; MESPA Retirement Committee, chair (statewide), 2013; MESPA Southwest Division, president, 2007; MESPA Southwest Division, EPAC representative, 2003-2006.

Marten’s professional awards include: Minneapolis Star Tribune Top 100 Places to Work, 2012; Title I Reward School, MN Department of Education, 2011; Futures Award winner, MN Business Partnership, 2010; Leadership Achievement Award, MESPA Southwest Division, 2008; Minnesota Principal Academy, selected participant, 2007.

Marten’s community service includes long-standing connection to the Rotary International, Gaylord Club: Community Service chair, 2006; Youth Exchange officer, 2004-present; Library liaison, 2007-present; President-elect, 2012; President, 2006.

Martens has served 17 years in the principalship, all in Sibley East. Prior to that she was: grade five teacher (1988-1995), grade 3 teacher (1985-1988), and ECFE coordinator (1985-1988) – all at Gaylord Elementary in Sibley East Public Schools.

Martens received her Sixth Year, Master of Science, and Bachelor of Science degrees from Minnesota State University, Mankato. 

Letter of congratulations to Mari Lu Martens from Senator Al Franken

Mari Lu Martens
Principal, Sibley East Elementary Schools

National Distinguished Principals recognized in Washington D.C. during National Principals Month.

Martens in the Mankato Free Press.

Martens congrats from Sen. Al Franken (scroll down for complete letter): “From your work to strengthen the school’s contributions as a community asset to your leadership in closing the achievement gap, you have created an environment at Sibley East Elementary Schools where learning flourishes. Your ability to take hold of insights from young minds and translate them into a renowned instructional system has created an example that will inspire other schools, teachers, and administrators across the state.”

The other finalists for this honor were: 
  • Donna Montgomery, principal, Gatewood Elementary School, Hopkins Public Schools.
  • Lillie Pang, principal, Hale Community School, Minneapolis Public Schools.

MESPA is the professional association of Minnesota’s elementary and middle level principals. With the vision to “be the premiere resource for preparing today’s principals for tomorrow and a strong leading voice for public education” and a statewide membership of 950 principals, MESPA has represented Minnesota’s principals since 1950. MESPA is affiliated with the National Association of Elementary School Principals and its 29,500 members nationwide.

MESPA Mission: Minnesota Elementary School Principals’ Association is dedicated to promoting and improving education for children and youth, strengthening the role as educational leader for elementary and middle level principals, and collaborating with partners in education to assist in achieving these goals.