A Safe Place for Students to Learn and Have Fun

In this inerview series, Andy Jacks and Hamish Brewer talk with South Boston principal Craig Martin about building resilience in students who face challenges in their lives.

Topics: Curriculum and Instruction, Principal Leadership, School Culture and Climate, Student Engagement

Craig Martin, principal of Michael J. Perkins Elementary School in South Boston, is passionate about education—and his efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. Martin has been recognized as an NAESP National Distinguished Principal, an ASCD Emerging Leader, and a Boston Educator of the Year.

Though he’s proud of these accomplishments, his passion lies in helping his students, staff, and community be the best they can be. And for him, that means an education rich in liberal arts.

“Being able to take drama, music, and art and really fuse it [with education] just electrifies the classroom dynamic,” says Martin.

Martin also works hard to make sure his students feel “seen.”

“When those kids walk in the door, they’re getting a high-five, a handshake, or a hug and someone’s calling them by their names,” says Martin. “That lets them know we see them and they’re valued.”

Through this welcoming process, Martin says his students feel like the school is their home away from home—one full of music and dancing in addition to learning.

The Challenges:

  1. How do I build resilience in students who face challenges in their lives?
  2. How do I bring joy into the school?

What You’ll Learn

Principal Spotlight:

Craig Martin
Principal, Michael J. Perkins Elementary School in South Boston
Twitter: @CraigCMartin12
Instagram: @CraigCMartin12

Principal of Michael J. Perkins Elementary School since the 2013-2014 school year, Martin is passionate about making sure his students feel safe and loved in his school while they are getting a quality education. Born and raised in New Orleans, Martin moved to Boston to attend college, where he balanced out his education with some liberal arts—playing in the band and singing in choir. He sees his principalship transitioning into a superintendent role in the future, but, he says, not matter what he’s doing, it’ll always involve working with kids.

In this video, Martin takes you on a virtual tour of his school to show how he checks in with students and staff and makes the school a safe place for students to learn and have fun. From Martin, you will learn ideas to:

Build resilience in students.

  • Martin works hard to create a school environment where students know they’re loved for who they are. And if they’re going through stressful experiences outside the walls of the school, he wants his students to know that school staff are there for them no matter what.
  • Every day, Martin makes time to walk around the school to do check-ins with students he knows have challenges they’re overcoming at home. He asks them how they’re doing and checks their works, and he finds even just a smile can make a difference to them that day.

Bring joy into the school.

  • From the second anyone walks into the school, they’ll know—actually, they’ll hear—that arts are incorporated into as many aspects of education as possible at Michael J. Perkins Elementary School. Music plays in the lobby of the school to welcome the children. The students listen to songs from groups like New Edition, singers like Barbra Streisand, and musicals like The Greatest Showman.
  • Martin started a “Dress Like Your Favorite Staff Member Day” in the school. The result? A bunch of students wearing ties to look like, you guessed it, their principal.

Reverse the achievement gap.

  • Martin and his teachers put high value in “aggressive monitoring.” Putting it simply, teachers give every single student in a classroom immediate feedback that they can use to improve their work. Doing this, Martin’s seen his school best the average in English language arts and math and reverse the achievement gap for Hispanic students and English language learners.


  1. Connect to students and families through music.
  2. Form a relationship with new students early on.
  3. Dedicate time every day to checking in on students.

Share your strategy: How have you transformed a school space to celebrate students? Go to the NAESP CIL webpage to tell us—and you could be one of the next principals we profile.