“Education will not change the world; it will change the people who are going to change the world.”
Dr. Victor Martin ’93 includes that quote by Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Freire under his email signature—a fitting location, as education has played a foundational role in Martin’s life.
Martin said his mother, Cathy Santos ’87 M’99, instilled in his sisters and him a love of learning early on.
In fact, many of his memories of his childhood in Oswego involve learning, like reading books (including encyclopedias), listening to National Public Radio (his home didn’t have a working television set until 10th grade) and awakening to the transformative power of education—quite literally.
“I remember with my sixth grade teacher—[the late] Mrs. Nancy [Triolo] Egan [’67]—we collected caterpillars in cans and I still remember the day when we came into our classroom and there were monarch butterflies all throughout our room.”
Martin also recalled his high school math teacher—Mike Caldwell [’70 M’88 and current Oswego Alumni Association board member]—who would sometimes employ peer-to-peer teaching where students taught each other the lessons.
“I just really connected with his teaching, and at that point, I thought, ‘Hmm, I kind of like this teaching thing,’” Martin said.
He ended up majoring in English at SUNY Oswego and got involved in Sigma Phi Epsilon, working on such projects as building a wooden playground and volunteering for the Special Olympics.
After graduation, he was ready to leave Oswego and decided to drive across country to California. Initially, he worked as a teacher assistant while living the “beach life” and surfing the waves along San Diego’s shoreline daily.
But when he was asked to fill in for a teacher who had called in sick, he saw the difference he could make by lighting the spark for learning in others. Administrators praised him for talent in working with the more challenging students, and his path became clear.
After serving as a classroom teacher at a school designated for students with emotional disabilities in San Diego, he moved to Milpitas, Calif., where he taught grades K-6. Then he moved to Northern Virginia, where he taught fifth and sixth grade, before becoming an administrator as well as serving as a summer school administrator and the lead in the Office of Multicultural Education.
Along the way he earned a master’s degree from George Mason University in education leadership and a doctorate in education leadership from the University of Pennsylvania, and served as a fellow at Harvard University’s National Institute for Urban School Leaders.
Today, he said he has his “dream job” as the principal of the Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Center for the Alexandria City Public Schools. The school educates youths ages 13-18 who are being held for the juvenile courts of Northern Virginia. Many students come from broken homes, are homeless or have drug and alcohol addiction problems. The average length of stay can range from 22 days to 67 days.
He sees education as a tool to help break the cycles of poverty, drug addiction, racism, crime and other social problems.
“This is the right work,” he said. “In order for a democracy to flourish, you’ve got to have its members be able to participate in society. I can’t imagine another place where I’d rather be. We have a responsibility to educate all of our students. And I’d rather be a part of that education than just watching it.
“Education offers hope and opportunity,” he said. “I hope to give that opportunity, not only to the students and families, but to my professional peers as well.”