First Latina Selected to Lead National Principals Group

One of the nation’s major school leadership organizations will notch a historic first with its selection of a new leader to take on the top post in 2024.

Raquel Martinez, a principal in Washington state, will take over this month as the president-elect of the National Association of Secondary School Principals—meaning that, come August next year, she’ll be the first Latina to lead the organization as its president.

Martinez, the principal of Stevens Middle School in Pasco, Wash., for the last five years, said she was humbled and grateful for the opportunity to lead the group, which provides professional development and support to thousands private and public middle and secondary school principals and lobbies on their behalf. NASSP also oversees the National Honor Society.

Martinez’s mid-year appointment is unusual. She replaces Aaron Huff, the principal at Benjamin Bosse High School in Evansville, Illinois, who had stepped into the president’s role after then-President Kip Motta, departed last November for personal reasons, according to the association. Martinez will finish out Huff’s term as president-elect and start her own full-term this summer.

Martinez has worked in education for 17 years, spending a decade as a biology teacher and three years as an assistant principal. She’s also served as a bilingual facilitator and has held leadership positions within the NASSP, including serving as chair of the organization’s governance committee.

“I am blessed and humbled by this opportunity to serve our school and student leaders as NASSP’s president-elect,” Martinez said in the announcement, adding that the group’s “mission to transform education through leadership resonates with me on a deeply personal level.”

“I will work tirelessly as a voice for my fellow principals and advocate for our students,” she said.

Motivated by students

Martinez threw her hat in the ring for the president position last year after she attended the association’s student mental health summit in Virginia and was asked to sit at a table with bilingual students, to help translate.

She would not forget the students’ reaction to meeting her.

“They were like, ‘You’re Latina? You speak Spanish? And you’re a principal? And you’re here at the national level?’” Martinez recalled. “I was so moved by that.”

Principals can get bogged down in the day-to-dayness of their school leadership duties that they can forget the impact they have, she said.

“I know I impacted them,” she said, but the experience also affected her.

The daughter of farm workers who moved from Mexico to Washington state, Martinez hopes she’ll be an example for Latino students and other students of color as well as Latino and Latina educators and other educators of color.

She knows how much representation matters. In her own school community, where Spanish is the primary home language, parents are often in disbelief—but they also display a huge level of comfort—when they realize that their school leader is Hispanic and bilingual.

“‘Es la directora? You’re the principal?’” is a question she gets a lot from parents.

“Even with parents you’re more relatable,” she said. “You can talk to them in their own language. It provides an opportunity, a safe place for them to ask questions about what the education system is doing. It’s completely different. You’re much more approachable.”

Martinez hopes to draw on her background as a child of migrant farmworkers—who also worked on the farms herself—and growing up in poverty to help others understand the challenges that students from low-income households face, but also programs and initiatives that can help students succeed academically.

There’s been a big push to increase diversity in the educator workforce over all, and school leadership in particular. While the majority of students enrolled in public schools are students of color, 77 percent of public school principals identify as white. Only nine percent were Hispanic in the 2020-21 school year, according to the most recent federal data.

Martinez hopes that having a leader of color in such a visible position—visiting schools and leading advocacy on the association’s behalf—would help teachers and principals of color in the profession. She’s also looking for opportunities to mentor fellow school leaders of color.

Ronn Nozoe, the organization’s CEO, called Martinez a “visionary and collaborative leader.”

“We know she has the experience, character and passion needed to advocate for an equitable system that works for all students and educators,” he said.

The organization is also looking for principals to fill five one-year seats on its board, beginning on Aug. 1.

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