Melissa Martin is dedicated to enhancing opportunities for students in Chinle, Arizona. Now the principal at Chinle Junior High School, Martin has fostered promising improvement in school culture through communication, a focus on student learning and responsive actions to meet family and staff needs. As a first-year principal, she has especially excelled in communication with families throughout the reopening of schools for in-person learning in fall 2021. The genuine interest Martin demonstrates toward students and staff results in positive relationships that serve as a strong foundation for collaborative practice and notable student outcomes. Before moving to the junior high, Martin was an academic coach at Chinle Elementary School (CES), where she visited classrooms to support teachers, testing new instructional practices with students before rolling them out to staff. She planned and led weekly job-embedded professional development, especially for teachers in pre-K through second grade.
Chinle USD is the largest district in the Navajo Nation, serving 3,400 students, with virtually every student a member of the Navajo Nation. The district partners with the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET) to create common language and expectations using the NIET Teaching and Learning Standards Rubric as well as EE PASS, NIET’s online portal for training, professional development, data management and more. NIET’s systems for educator effectiveness have represented one of several district strategies used to attract, retain, and develop effective teachers in every classroom, with remarkable results. NIET’s instructional rubric and the structures of educator leadership and support under NIET’s TAP System for Teacher and Student Advancement helped the school implement the newly adopted Beyond Textbooks curriculum. Martin was a key member of a high-functioning leadership team that led a phenomenal team of teachers to steady growth in academic achievement at CES. The school has risen from a D-rated Focus School to a B; a contributing factor to the district now being the highest-performing reservation district in the state. In 2020, the school was selected among five nationwide as an NIET Founder’s Award finalist.
A member of the Navajo community and a graduate of Chinle High School, Martin is a powerful role model for Chinle’s youth as they look to their futures beyond high school. She understands the challenges they must overcome: Students travel from up to 60 miles away to attend school, and many students live in homes without electricity and/or running water. Knowing that Chinle’s young people represent the future of their tight-knit community, Martin was a noteworthy member of the team that led the implementation of the district’s early childhood program to ensure a solid foundation for the youngest learners.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the Navajo Nation, Martin actively collaborated with CES staff to coordinate district-established distribution plans ensuring that CES students and their families had access to resources, learning materials and food. She supported teachers, communicated daily with staff, students and families, and took a lead role in implementing district plans for virtual learning. All students received devices and hot spots from the district, and Martin provided ongoing professional development to help teachers plan effective virtual instruction and maintain the school’s high learning expectations.
Martin is an avid runner and has coached track and cross country. Several of the runners she coached at Chinle High School followed her into education and now teach in her building. Martin and her husband, Shaun – the athletic director at Chinle High – founded and host an annual international cross-country tournament at nearby Canyon de Chelly National Monument that brings attention and awareness to the Navajo Nation.
Martin holds a bachelor’s in elementary education (2004) and a master’s in educational leadership and administration (2020) from Northern Arizona University, as well as a master’s in elementary education (2010) from Grand Canyon University.
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