Longtime school board member steps down

Olivia Martinez resigns from Sequoia Union High School District board to move to Texas

Olivia Martinez, who has served on the board of the Sequoia Union High School District since 1999, has announced she is leaving the board March 1 to move to Dallas, Texas.

Ms. Martinez, who has lived in California all her life, says she loves the state, but "I'm looking forward to a change." She says living in a place so different from the Bay Area will be an adventure. "I'm really excited about it," she said, with a wide grin. "I think it will be a really great growing experience."

Ms. Martinez will be moving with her daughter's family, which includes four grandchildren, who have been sharing her Menlo Park property with her. Her son-in-law has been transferred to Dallas for work.

Ms. Martinez said she has loved being a part of her grandchildren's everyday lives. She says her children had a similar situation growing up, because her mother lived in the cottage on her property. "I could not have asked for a better situation," she says. "It was everything I could have wanted."

Even though she's moving to Texas, Ms. Martinez says she is not selling the home she's owned since 1971 in the Menlo Oaks neighborhood. "This will still be my home," she said.

Ms. Martinez said the high school district has seen growth and improvement since she first became a school board member. "It's changed it is such a completely different district from when I went on the board in 1999," she said. "We have a district now that parents seek out for their kids."

One of the major reasons, she says, is the quality of district employees. "The biggest asset our district has is its teaching staff," as well as the rest of its staff, she said.

"I'm really proud of the fact that we've hired, while I've been on the board, three excellent superintendents," she said.

The current superintendent, Jim Lianides, showed his leadership skills in the recent redrawing of the high school's attendance boundaries, she said. "I think people really felt they were heard," she said. "We listened. We asked for their input and we acted on it."

The boundary changes and the passage of a $265 million bond measure for construction means the district is "going to be ready" for the influx of students that is expected to start arriving next fall, she said.

"As far as I can see into the future, we're going to be able to serve our community admirably," Ms. Martinez said. "There's going to be very little in the way of challenges that we're not going to be able to meet."

As far as projects left undone on the board, Ms. Martinez said she would like to see all the high schools put more resources into their athletic programs.

"I really hope that we shore up our athletic offerings. Athletics to me is the great equalizer for our students," she said.

Sports teach kids discipline, show them the consequences of behavior and of actions and give them a sense of purpose, she said "These are valuable lessons for life that we don't always get through to kids."

It's not surprising that Ms. Martinez is a big supporter of athletics. Her husband Tom, who died nearly three years ago, was a well-known coach as well as an educator, spending 32 years coaching at the College of San Mateo. The two met while they were both students at San Francisco State in 1965, and married in 1966.

Ms. Martinez said that she hopes her replacement on the board "is somebody competent and caring and ... who can serve fairly."

"I would like to see somebody who is intelligent. I think it would really be wonderful if we could have somebody who represents the Fair Oaks community," she said, perhaps a Latino or Latina or from the Pacific Islander community.

Ms. Martinez, 70, went to Garfield and Hoover schools in Redwood City and attended Sequoia High School. "I've seen tremendous changes in our society and our culture over the years," she said.

She attended four universities: San Francisco State, the University of California-Berkeley, California State-Hayward and the University of San Francisco, ending up with a Ph.D.

She spent her career in public education, working as a teacher, school social worker, school psychologist, and in several administrative positions, ending her career as a vice president and professor at Canada College.

Ms. Martinez' family was far from being immigrants, with her grandmother and father both born in California. Nonetheless, Ms. Martinez says, her family had to move more than once when she was growing up, after neighbors found out they were Hispanic.

She grew up, one of five children, hearing family members speak Spanish, but not speaking it herself. She spent most of her professional career working with limited English speakers, Ms. Martinez says, and has always emphasized the importance of students learning English.

In addition to serving on the high school board, Ms. Martinez was on the boards of the Peninsula Community Foundation, YMCA of the Mid-Peninsula, Hispanos Unidos, Hispanic Community Foundation, Haas Center for Public Service at Stanford, Foundation for a College Education in East Palo Alto and the Latino Leadership Council. She was president of Redwood City International, which supports collaboration with sister cities in Mexico and China.

She says that desire to serve the community may have been passed down from her father who was a social worker, one of the first who worked on the street of Los Angeles with gang members. He later worked for San Mateo County. "He was always in community service," she says.

When she attended Sequoia High School, it had a diverse student body. "Everybody got along," she says, and she made lifelong friends. "Nobody divided us by putting labels on us. Everybody's family was working class."

Her own children attended Laurel and Encinal schools in the Menlo Park City School District, and Menlo-Atherton High School, before going on to attend three University of California schools: UCLA, Berkeley and Santa Barbara.

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1 person likes this
Posted by Grateful
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Jan 30, 2015 at 12:18 pm

Many thanks to Ms. Martinez for her years of service to our community and for strengthening our public schools. Wishing you all the best on your new adventure!

9 people like this
Posted by Board Observer
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jan 30, 2015 at 12:27 pm

Best wishes to Ms. Martinez and the SUHSD for a fresh start and a new perspective.. Sixteen years is a LONG time.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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