Being an educator is in Martha Peek’s blood. Her family has been involved with the Mobile County Public School System continuously in some way or another for 104 years. It’s a family business that the county’s first female superintendent has carried on with pride for 41 years, since she first stepped foot in a classroom as a teacher at her alma mater, Alba School. The state’s largest school district has big plans in the works – implementing the Common CORE Standards and high school signatures; reaching for an 80 percent graduation rate by 2020; and restoring the city’s largest high school, Murphy, to its former glory. Here, the face of the MCPSS reflects on the past while looking toward the future.
My grandmother started teaching in 1908. She had just graduated from Barton in the spring, and in the fall of 1908, she began teaching on Dauphin Island and actually had to take a schooner to get there because there was no bridge. Then, when she married, she quit teaching. By that time, Alma Bryant, who was my great-aunt, had finished high school and started teaching on Dauphin Island. Since then, there’s always been a member of my family in the Mobile County Public School System. It has given me an intrinsic view of what the school system is from all angles.
I firmly believe that teachers have some of the greatest influence in a person’s life. When I speak to new teachers, I always tell them to shut their eyes and think of the best teachers they ever had, and you can immediately see smiles on their faces. A teacher made that special connection with them along the way, and that’s always been my goal, to try to be that person.
The greatest challenge that our youth face is a very fast-paced world; it’s a very demanding world. They often have to face adult challenges much sooner than perhaps they really want to. It’s a very technologically oriented world where they must be not only masters academically, but also masters of technology, using that to communicate in the world.
We’re defining what it means for students to be “college and career ready.” To achieve that in the district, it takes not only the people in the school system — the educators — but also the city, bringing in business and industry. I have a business roundtable where we’re really talking about this. What do we want our students to be able to do?
It’s been quite a busy few months. It’s hard to believe. It feels like 10 years that we’ve been involved in shifting Murphy off the campus and back. Life will return to somewhat normal circumstances. I can’t say enough, though, about the students, faculty and staff at Murphy and also the students, faculty and staff at Clark-Shaw. Everybody worked together to make it a really good situation – and with almost 2, 300 students catching buses every morning. The bright side is that the fully repaired facility will be really nice.
I tell everybody all the time, the superintendent is just the face, there are 7, 700 other employees that make sure that the doors open and that the students’ needs are taken care of every day. I’m just privileged to work with them.
text by Mallory Boykin • photo by Amanda Roberds