Talk Story with Perry Martin
President, Maryknoll School; and President, Hawaii Association of Independent Schools Board
Martin uses a baseball analogy to warn educators everywhere: If a pitcher makes the same pitch to every batter all the time, he will eventually lose. Martin’s goal is to disrupt archaic methods so educators can nurture students to navigate both sides of their brains – and think big. He talks to managing editor Gina Gelber about the future of education.
There are about 118 private schools serving more than 36,000 students in Hawaii. What is their biggest challenge?
It’s defining what a thriving school is. We all survive, but there is a big gap between surviving and thriving. Doing the wrong thing for a long time will make you go off a cliff.
The gap between thriving and surviving is not so much something we see, it is how we think. It is the thought process of why are we in this business. It’s critical because that helps prioritize everything: your operations, your money, your faculty. When you get to the why, you break down barriers and change and innovate.
What changes are needed?
Before the Great Recession of 2008, everything was lined up for college preparation and then work. But there were about 8 million jobs lost between 2008 and 2012 – those jobs were middle-class jobs for middle managers. The job reports today say there has been a recovery, but not for those jobs.
If you engineer backward, colleges, high schools and grade schools have to recognize these changes. Otherwise, we will have the highest-trained students in the world who can’t find jobs because they are groomed for jobs that aren’t there anymore. The only way we can prepare them is by looking at our curriculums and making them relevant.
Do you have to go to private school to get a good education in Hawaii?
Absolutely not. Education is specific per classroom and per school. With the right leadership anything is possible. Washington Middle School is a public school that attracts very bright students, the very best. It has a special leader and is a special school. Its math and science program is unmatched. Both independent and public schools have the ability to thrive and have the same gateway to excellence.
The average tuition for Hawaii private schools, including Kamehameha, is $7,535. That’s about $2,000 less than the national average, according to Private School Review, a national guide to independent schools. But that price still puts private schools out of reach for many local residents. What can private schools do to make education more accessible?
Everybody is looking for ways to bring more value to the customer so it can override the cost. You can also look at the power of reducing the number of schools. When you merge schools and gather their strengths, the outcome can be powerful. Also, every school should look to set up endowments to help keep education more affordable.
“We wanted a program that was unique and entrepreneurial that empowers students to speak up and be the bridge builders of tomorrow.”
But we also have to realize that the cost of preparing kids for the future is rising – the curve is higher. Take our new Mx Scholar Program for STEM & Aerospace, for example. The printers we use don’t cost $299, they are $10,000 apiece. Yet the kids have to learn that skill because it is going to be something they will use when they are 22 years old.
Do private schools have a responsibility to help public schools?
We want public and private schools to thrive together. We want to work in tandem, because we recognize that if one area really failed, the other couldn’t pick up the slack. We recently had the Schools of the Future Conference, which was a tremendous example of publics and privates working together to promote best practices.
We know STEM learning is important in the modern economy. Tell us about Maryknoll’s new Mx Scholar Program for STEM & Aerospace.
The program touches on science, math and engineering. But it is the engineering part that is the thinking part. We want students to think like engineers because engineers create things. If we started taking away what engineers created in this room, pretty soon we would be sitting on dirt. Engineers think for humanity. We wanted a program that was unique and entrepreneurial that empowers students to speak up and be the bridge builders of tomorrow.
How is it different from other local STEM programs?
We offer an advanced curriculum, which is unique because students can truly accelerate. Kids are pre-tested and if you test out of something, you don’t have to repeat what you already know – you are truly accelerated. From the get-go, no two kids are in the same place.
Our teachers have powerful dashboards that allow them to track students. They can see where they are in a lesson, how fast they are moving and how they are testing in real time. They can pick kids that are in a similar place and do a group lesson, so it never slows students, it only speeds them up. Learning happens electronically, in a group or individually. It can be delivered anytime; learning doesn’t stop at 3:30.
The other important aspect of this program is that we partnered with BAE Systems and other great organizations to create a realistic aviation and aeronautics-themed school. We wanted aviation to be inserted into every course. We also placed this program at the airport so we could reinforce this theme. BAE helped us align our four-year curriculum. We have eight or nine partners in total, ranging from engineering firms to drone companies.
What has been the market’s appetite for the program?
Things are going fast. We plan on opening next fall with 90 students, and right now we are about halfway home. We have about 45 kids in the application pipeline.
Explain the mentoring component of the program?
We want all kids to have a mentor in the area they are passionate about. So let’s say a student is really interested in airport management; we would find them a mentor in that industry to come in once a month, at least, for about an hour. We have a planned program in place so the mentor is comfortable on how to approach the student. We put the two together and the relationship flourishes, hopefully turning into a summer internship. The mentoring and the internship are important because they illustrate what a career looks like, so students know what to expect.
Mx is described as a big leap for a Maryknoll school. How so?
Like most schools we have been teaching math and science in traditional ways. What we haven’t been doing is integrating kids across core areas and thought processes. With the Mx program, we have chosen not to isolate math anymore. The math and the science have to go together. The integration is important.
You have a master’s degree in computer science. How did this background help you conceive and develop the new program?
Back then, computer technology was the wild, wild West. It allowed me to take the blinders off and see a world that could help me as a person, administrator and leader. It helped me believe I could manage large things and think big thoughts.
This interview was edited for clarity and conciseness.