Educator Interview

Janice Martinez

Janice Martinez is principal of Holy Child Catholic School in Tijeras, New Mexico.

Is your Catholic school independent, parochial, or diocesan?

 

We are a parochial school associated with Holy Child Catholic Parish in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.

 

 

What grades does your school serve?

Preschool to eighth grade.

 

What is your vision for your school? How do you think of your mission? What do you hope to accomplish?

 

Our mission is raising saints and forming scholars. Our vision for implementing that is using the classical curriculum of St. Jerome Academy in Hyattsville, Maryland. We have our own way of integrating the curriculum into the life of our school. For example, we have a phenomenal Latin teacher who has her master’s degree in biblical counseling. She has a calm, engaging temperament that allows her to work with children of all ages. That allows us to have a serious Latin program starting in kindergarten.

 

I believe the classical education movement is going to save the Church and the nation, including non-Christians. I think it's the answer because it's going to open up our imagination to what's good and beautiful. It’s going to make us human again.

 

 

How do your school’s culture and curriculum differ from government schools in your area? From other Catholic schools in your area?

 

Our school is very different from other schools in the area. We are the only Catholic classical school in the Archdiocese.

 

An aspect of our school that sets us apart is our study and use of Latin. Some people accuse us of being elitist, but it’s our students who have made Latin a part of the culture of our school. They’ve really taken to it. Latin is now incorporated into many of our school-wide activities.

 

Recently, in commemoration of the 700-year anniversary of the death of Dante, we had our first Dante read-a-thon. Parents, parishioners, and students read through eight Cantos of the Inferno at church.

 

No other schools around us are doing things like this.

 

Also, our school doesn’t look like other schools. We take seriously the catechetical documents on schools, which say a school should look like a home. It should be filled with the true, the good, and the beautiful. It should be a showcase for the legacy of Western civilization. And so, we have worked really hard to fill our hallways with reproductions of art masterpieces.

 

 

How often do your students attend Mass?

 

Before COVID, our older students attended Mass Monday through Friday and little kids attended once a week. We look forward to the lifting of COVID restrictions.

 

How else is the Catholic faith integrated into the school program?

We draw on the Catholic faith in all areas. St. Ignatius is our patron. We practice Ignatian Contemplation as a school community. A favorite way to do this is to gaze at a piece of sacred art and pray a decade of the rosary together.

 

During Lent on Fridays, we have Stations of the Cross. We made our own Stations of the Cross booklet featuring student art. I rewrote Saint Alphonsus Liguori’s prayer to make it a little more Ignatian. We love it because it's half Latin, half English.

 

The art and literature our children study have something true, good, and beautiful in it, and they all portray some sort of redemption.

 

I'm a huge fan of the Catholic Textbook Project. My own background is in history. I have a master's in European history. Those books are better than what I studied in graduate school. I love those books. I'm a firm believer that if our young people know their history and how Christ is in all these areas of history—in particular how the pagans were looking for Christ in Ancient Greece and Rome—they are going to more readily see Christ’s presence in their own history.

 

We do timelines at our school. Students start them in kindergarten and carry them through eighth grade. They add their own dates—birthdays, field trips, other important events in their lives. I've been a teacher for 25 years. I've taught all grades. A lot of kids today are leaving school with a sense of nihilism. So I think putting this vision of Christ in history is crucial to helping save our kids.

 

With science and math, we try to emphasize the wonder of creation. There is order in our mathematical operations. We recognize that order comes from God.

 

Seventh and eight graders study philosophy and logic. Right now, they’re reading Socrates Meets Jesus by Peter Kreeft. We emphasize the encounter with reason, which should be the bedrock for all their studies. If kids don't have that foundation, they think that faith and science are opposed to each other. That's the strength of the classical vision. We keep reminding them that faith and reason reinforce each other.

 

 

Are subjects—such as mathematics, science, literature, and history—integrated in any way?

 

Using the St. Jerome Academy curriculum, every grade focuses on its own era, integrating all aspects of a student’s experience, including history, literature, poetry, and art. For example, first graders focus on Ancient Greece, second graders focus on Ancient Rome, and all subjects are integrated.

 

What is your school’s enrollment?

 

Enrollment for next year is 86. We’ve had to turn families away because of COVID restrictions.

 

Has enrollment been steady in recent years? 

Yes, but 12 years after opening, we are still looking to find our momentum. We just moved into a new building. We ran into a septic tank issue, but thanks be to God, there are a lot of people around me who know what they’re doing. Still, it was distracting and COVID has slowed us down too.

 

One challenge we have with retention is that we don’t offer sports, so we lose some of our middle school boys who are otherwise happy with the school.

 

 

What is your school’s tuition? Do you offer a sibling discount? If you offer financial aid, how many families receive it and what is the average grant?

 

K-8 tuition is $5,000 for the first child, $4,500 for the second child, $4,250 for the third child, and free for the fourth and additional children. Preschool is $2,000 for 3-year olds (2 days a week), $2,500 for 4-year olds (3 days a week).

 

I think the sibling discount is important. We want to encourage fruitfulness in life. We want to support families that are open to life. Right now, we have a couple of families who do send their fourth child for free. I love it. I’m glad that we can do that.

 

Our pastor feels strongly that we should not turn anyone away, so we have a generous scholarship program.

 

 

How involved are parents in the life of your school?

 

Parents are very involved. We're a small community. We rely a lot on each other. We couldn't operate without our parents.

 

 

Are you generally satisfied with your school’s teachers? How so?

 

Yes, I am satisfied with our teachers. I think hiring teachers is the most important part of my job. It’s what keeps me up at night. When I hire a teacher, I always ask myself if I would entrust a child to this person. I have really high standards because children are sponges and they soak up everything, including spirit. So, my number one qualification is, “Does this teacher want to be a saint?” That's the number one thing that I look for.

 

I know I always ask too much of my teachers and yet I always want more. There are always things we can do better, but when I see what they’re doing with these kids, it blows my mind. They are wonderful and boy do they work hard.

 

 

Are parents generally satisfied with the education their children receive at your school? How do you know?   

 

If parents aren't satisfied with anything, believe me, they let me know. Overall, I think they are satisfied. I do receive really positive comments from parents about the education their children receive and I will say in areas where they're not satisfied, we've worked together on all sides to try to come to a solution.

 

 

What are you doing to intentionally build and strengthen your school community? How do you communicate with students, families, and teachers? How do members of your community connect with each other?

 

Prior to COVID, we hosted a lot of events to bring families together. Every October, we hosted a gathering for families to eat together and watch the kids recite poetry. In the spring, we hosted a fine arts night to give the kids an opportunity to showcase their art and play their music.

 

I communicate with families through a Monday memo to share school news and activities.

 

 

How do you utilize volunteers in the operation of your school? What has worked well in making volunteers effective?

We rely heavily on volunteers. Our parents are amazing! I have a parent volunteer right now who is an engineer and he's just brilliant and he knows how to do everything. So he helps me with all the IT issues with all of our computers and with all the Excel spreadsheets. Parent volunteers have painted the building, planted flowers, and built our playground.

 

What resources do you recommend parents use at home to deepen families’ understanding of and appreciation for the Catholic faith? For example, Word on Fire, Institute of Catholic Culture, Augustine Institute, etc.

 

Right before the virus, the teachers and I started a newsletter called Classical at Home to share resources with our school families.

 

 

What do parents value most in your school? How do you know that?

We are a mountain community. The people here value independence. They have a pioneering spirit. We had a town meeting over the summer to figure out a plan to comply with COVID restrictions that worked for our community. Our families have been unified in our response. They are grateful we’re open and in person. We have no students enrolled in distance learning.

 

What marketing efforts (events, social media, print advertising, digital advertising, etc.) have you found most effective in sharing your school’s story with the local community?

 

We’re on Facebook. We have done print advertising in newspapers and Archdiocese publications. We added a promotional video to our website.

 

As far as effectiveness, what works best in sharing our story is word of mouth. National organizations have also really helped. One of our best families found us on the map for the National Association for Private Catholic Independent Schools. Last month I met with families who found us on the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education map. Another family said they heard about us through a Chesterton School in New York. I'm guessing that was another ICLE connection. We are also on the Cardinal Newman Society Honor Roll. I have attended ICLE conferences and met people across the country and, surprisingly, that has been more effective than any Archdiocese contacts.

 

 

How do you recruit new families to your school? What resources do you use to share your school’s story and connect with likeminded families? What insights can you share about what parents are seeking for their children and what your school offers that others don’t.

 

Happy families are the best recruiting tool.

 

Parents are seeking a partnership in all areas. Practical concerns arise all the time—for example, regarding schedules, pick-up procedure, and how to communicate with teachers. Parents want a school to be open to addressing inefficiencies and providing a better overall experience for families.

 

A majority of our families are seeking a safe environment for their children, where they won’t be exposed to the ugliness of the world prematurely through devices. Most of our families are very careful about not giving their children devices at a young age.​

 

 

How much have you needed to sell your community of parents on the value of the education and formation your school offers? How many parents seek out what your school offers vs. how many need to be convinced? What messaging resonates with parents?

 

There's definitely a mix. I have a core group of families. I don't need to sell them anything. They're already doing it. They believe in it. They live it. They're teaching me.

 

I have other families who need to be convinced because they are new to classical education. They often tell me they don’t fully understand everything we’re doing, but they like what they see.

 

 

How do you determine whether a prospective family will be a good fit for your school community? What steps are included in your application process? What shared values do current families expect you to protect as you add new families to your school community?

 

We aim to accept families who want their kids to be saints and not of the world. Listening to the questions parents ask can tell you pretty quickly if they share the same values. For example, it’s a good sign if they ask how often students go to Mass or what religion book you are you using.

 

I bring all admissions decisions to prayer. Before I came to the school, I did a three-year formation program on Ignatian formation, so that has been helpful for me in the discernment process.

 

 

What do you look for when hiring teachers?

 

I look for whether they want to be saints and also if they are open to changing their pedagogical style according to the classical method. I taught pre-classical for 12 years, and now I’m in my 13th year as a classical teacher. I tell teachers that making this transition is a death; you have to die to everything you knew about teaching before. It’s not easy. I have to determine if they're truly open to the transformation.

 

Practical considerations are also important. A teacher who is brilliant in philosophy, history, and literature will fail if he or she does not have the temperament to manage a class of middle school students.

 

 

How do you recruit new teachers? What resources do you use to share your school’s story and connect with qualified teachers outside of your school community? What insights can you share about what teachers are seeking in a school community and what your school offers that others don’t.

 

For our rural area, word of mouth has been most effective, although we have posted jobs through the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education and Catholic Jobs.

 

Teachers who come to us are most interested in teaching at an authentically Catholic school. They’re looking for a place to live out their faith.

 

 

How do you determine whether a teacher you are considering hiring will be a good fit for your school community? What steps are included in your interview process? What shared values do current teachers and families expect you to protect as you add new teachers to your school community?

 

We’re looking for teachers who want to be saints.

 

 

How do you train teachers and what have you learned about teacher training?

 

We use the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education and Classical Academic Press.

 

I’ve learned that I have to help teachers find their passion and also that teachers appreciate practical help. For example, at our last in-service, I shared something from Classical Academic Press encouraging us to stop using the term “classroom management” and instead to speak in terms of “shaping” a classroom. It's not classical for teachers to think of their job as managing chaos. Teacher are not robots. They’re adults entrusted with the responsibility of helping to educate and form God’s children.

 

 

What percentage of your school’s budget is covered by tuition revenue? How important is fundraising to the continued operation of your school? What works best to inspire families and community members to support your school? What doesn’t work? How have you created momentum in your fundraising efforts and what plans do you have to strengthen your fundraising program in the years ahead?

 

Fundraising revenue represents a big part of the budget. It costs at least $8,000 to educate each student. Revenue from tuition, which starts at $5,000 and decreases for every sibling, only covers approximately 60% of actual costs. 

 

Our parents are extremely generous in providing the funds for specific needs. For example, when our climbing rope for the playground broke, I put a note in the bulletin asking for $2,500 for a new rope. Three parents stepped forward to pay for it. Parents also provided a refrigerator for teachers and a sofa for the teachers’ lounge.

 

Our capital campaign for our new building has required a more coordinated effort. We had to raise $450,000 in just a few months to secure a loan. We did raise the amount, but then the cost increased because of septic tank issues, so our goal is now $1.3 million; we’ve raised half of that. Local parishioners have been extremely generous. I’ve been speaking at Masses about the school and our Catholic, classical curriculum. We put together a PowerPoint. We hosted a pancake breakfast. We did a Jericho walk to take ownership of the land. We went through the foundation before the building came and buried our prayer intentions.

 

Four years before we started the capital campaign, I started asking the Lord about it and I always got that scripture from Corinthians: “God has given you an abundance for every good deed.” So I am just going on faith because it's purely miraculous. It's not like it's any one of my gifts or anything like that. We're just relying on the Lord and I really feel like he told me a long time ago to get ready to build Noah's Ark. It's not easy, but I really think the school is worth it.

 

Traditional school fundraising efforts generate modest revenue. We have a fish fry fundraiser every year that raises $3,000 to $4,000. Our Christmas wreath fundraiser raises $5,000.  

 

 

Are you the primary fundraiser for your school? How many hours do you spend on fundraising every week? How many hours does other staff spend on fundraising?  

 

I’m the primary fundraiser, although we just hired a grantwriter. I spend five to 15 hours on fundraising a week, depending on the season.

What have you learned about relationships with those who oversee your school? What are common challenges for schools operating under your model and what is your school doing well that would be helpful for other schools to know about? What advice are you willing to share about how to navigate important and/or challenging relationships?

 

Ephesians calls us to bear with one another through love. I've learned that I have to bear others and they have to put up with me.

 

 

What is your school known for in your area?

 

Being authentically Catholic.

 

 

What is your school’s greatest challenge?

 

Lack of resources. It’s definitely a sacrifice for a teacher to work here. Salaries are low.

 

We’ve had some tension with being small. Sometimes parents will say they want their child to meet other kids.

 

Our location is also a challenge. We’re in the mountains. I know a lot of people in town who say they’d love to come to our school, but they would never drive out here. We’re actually only 12 minutes from the mall, but we’re up against a mindset. I’m from New York, so I’m used to driving. But that’s not the culture here.

 

 

What does your school do better than any other school in your area?

 

We are serious about raising saints.

 

What have our questions not covered that would help clarify the success of your school?

We can plan a human project, but unless it’s the Lord's initiative, it's never going to work. It always has to be what He wants. With everything we've done, I always ask, “Lord, is this really what you want?” I'm a weak vessel for Him to work with. He's always showing me it's Him; it's not me.

 

What is the most important difference between your school and struggling schools?

 

I don’t make any big plans until I know it’s the Lord’s plan.

 

 

Share one custom that is unique to your school.

In the fall, we have Fairy Tale Friday, where we celebrate a Grimm’s story or other fairy tale. The kids translate parts of the work into Latin and act it out.

 

 

Share one resource that strengthens your school.

 

Institute for Excellence in Writing

 

 

Share one tool—online or otherwise—that increases the efficiency or professionalism of your work.

 

​Dropbox

​​

 

Share one activity you do regularly that makes you a more effective leader.

 

After I pray about something and I feel like I've received an answer in prayer, I try to talk it out with the appropriate people.

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Additional Resources:

 

Holy Child Catholic School

Parent Interview: April McMillan

Parent Interview: Jasmine Lyle