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He Tweets, He Recycles: An Innovative Principal Uses Technology to Reach Students

Principal Joseph Martinez steers Carpenter toward a Community Charter School.

Dropping in on Joe Martinez over the summer, he may be found dressed rather casually in a pair of shorts while sitting behind his desk.

But it doesn't matter, this principal encourages an open-door policy. And he likes to keep in contact with the parents of his students through all kinds of means, both formally and informally.

The icon on his Twitter feed is a live baby cougar. The cougar is the Carpenter Community Charter mascot.

"I think it's important to stay in touch and that everyone have access to me," Martinez said. "Every one of my parents have a cell phone and what better than have them follow me."

Carpenter has a lot of technology for an elementary school. There's wi-fi in its  library, and the parents are big in promoting computer technology in school.

The Twitter account was inspired when Martinez took the fifth graders on their annual trip to Washington last year.  No parents are allowed to call their children for the eight days that they are away. Many children were away from home for the first time.

"The only way for them to find out about their children was the Twitter I sent them," Martinez said. "I posted pictures, and sent tweets."

Now, he tweets meeting notes to parents, sends out phone blasts and is revamping the website to keep parents informed.

Parents love Martinez.

"He's everything you can hope for in a principal," said Andrew Barrett, the incoming PTA president. "And he's very modest. For example, he won't tell you that he was voted the fourth most favorite principal in all of L.A."

The United Teachers of Los Angeles did a principal survey, and Martinez came in fourth place, with a score of 4.72 out of 5, in all of Los Angeles.

"It's obvious that he wants our kids to succeed and grow," said Michellene De Bonis, who worked with Martinez to get the school's charter status.

And local business owner Katherine Kraus, who runs a children's comedy school on Ventura Boulevard said, "We met with Mr. Martinez to see about working on some projects together, and he is smart, charming and really knows his students."

Martinez promotes all kinds of communication. There's a student-run newspaper, a PTA newsletter and a separate website for the Parents for Carpenter, which is another fundraising branch of parents. There will also be a new paper started this year called Partners in Education.

"You have both a student perspective and one for adults, and there are teachers who help coordinate the newsletter," Martinez said. "Communication is key to keep everyone in the loop and let everyone know what's happening."

The elementary school has been a community meeting ground in Studio City since 1924. As a public school, Carpenter has grown at this location, with bungalows and temporary classrooms added on campus to accommodate a growing school population (close to 900).

Martinez has lived and worked mostly in the San Fernando Valley. He lives nearby in Northridge with his wife and two children, one in high school, one in elementary school. His wife teaches kindergarten in Reseda.

He worked as a math coach, taught in San Fernando and became an Elementary Instructional Specialist. He worked as assistant principal of the Balboa Gifted/High Ability Magnet in Northridge and worked as assistant principal at Langdon Avenue Elementary School in Reseda. He is bringing all of his expertise to Carpenter and implementing programs that were successful at the other schools.

Another unique program at Carpenter is Trash-Free Tuesdays. On those days, everyone is encouraged to use reusable sandwich bags or sandwich cloth and nothing plastic in order to promote environmental living.  Then they measure the amount of trash generated and compare it to a regular day.

There's also Walk-to-School Wednesdays, when parents are encouraged not to drive their cars, and prizes are handed out at certain points where children and their parents are walking or biking. Last year,  Cliff Bars, maker of healthy snack bar, donated prizes for the special Wednesday event.

"We have tons of events during the year, Kinder picnics, movie nights, the beginning of the school-year picnics,  networking of parents, celebration of increased test scores, the Halloween festival, a walkathon in November and dancing and singing," he said. A Jump for Heart fundraiser is used to promote physical fitness.

Martinez admits that not everything will be perfect in the new charter system. The school celebrated its exceptional test scores last year with a cake that had a big 912 on it.

But, the principal said, "It's a lot of pressure to maintain that kind of score. It's hard not to have a year that falls back a couple of points."

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