Bancroft principal to head new middle school

TANGLETOWN — Bancroft Elementary School Principal Paul Marietta will lead the new middle school opening next year in the Ramsey building, the district announced late Tuesday.

Only in his mid-30s, Marietta has a long resume that includes multiple roles in the education systems of three states, as well as work as an education consultant. Southwest families will have their first chance to meet with him at an open house scheduled for 10 a.m.–noon Saturday at Ramsey, 1 W. 49th St.

Although Bancroft is an International Baccalaureate (IB) Primary Years Programme candidate school, Marietta said that wasn’t necessarily a clue to the academic program the district has planned for Ramsey. Chief Academic Officer Emily Puetz promised more details on the Ramsey program when a principal was named, but no official announcement had been made as of Wednesday afternoon.

Marietta said Ramsey would be a “comprehensive middle school” with a focus on “inquiry- and project-based” learning experiences. It will blend elements of different academic programs, including IB, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and the “triple-A” theme of nearby Washburn High School, which emphasizes a blend of arts, athletics and academics.

A Minnesota native who grew up in the northern suburbs, Marietta started his teaching career in Hudson Falls, Wis., not far from where he met his wife, Jenny. The couple both worked as counselors at the YMCA-run Camp St. Croix.

They later moved to Colorado, where Marietta worked in the Woodland Park School District as a special education teacher, basketball coach, dean of students at a high school and an assistant principal at an elementary school.

The two eventually returned to Twin Cities area, and Marietta worked as a consultant for McREL (Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning), an education research nonprofit. While he recalled the experience as “a wonderful job,” the travel demands were “incredibly taxing,” and Marietta said he longed to be back in a school setting.

“I feel that the most powerful work that can be done (in education) is in the schools,” he said.

Before returning to a school, though, Marietta first worked as a Minnesota Department of Education school improvement specialist and in central administration at Minneapolis Public Schools. He said his cumulative experiences — in a variety of education-related jobs in schools, government, district administration and at a nonprofit — “led to a different lens in which to approach education” and a deeper understanding of how schools interact with their districts and the state and federal governments.

The one experience missing from Marietta’s resume is that of a middle school teacher, but he said his track record as a proven leader was more important for opening a brand-new school.

“What’s most important in a principal … is getting the staff and students and families rallying around a common cause,” he said.

Experience, he added, is “trumped by enthusiasm and energy.”

Associate Superintendent Theresa Battle, who led the hiring process, has previously said about 16–20 candidates, both from within the district and outside of it, applied for the new principal position.

The naming of an internal candidate for the position means Ramsey Middle School project leader Cindy Reuther will continue to play a critical role in the school’s early development stages. Reuther founded St. Paul’s Laura Jeffrey Academy, where she is still serving as executive director, and was hired by Minneapolis Public Schools for her expertise in starting a successful middle school program.

Reuther’s role would have been more limited if the district hired an external candidate who was able to start in the new position immediately, but her presence will allow Marietta to wrap-up the school year at Bancroft.

Marietta said he and Reuther met Tuesday night — the same night word of his hiring began to trickle out — and “hit it off really well.”

“I’m going to be in constant contact with Cindy,” he added.

One of Marietta’s most important jobs will be to hire the staff that will open the school next fall. He will be looking for teachers who understand technology, support the project- and inquiry-based learning approach planned at Ramsey and who understand the “social and emotional needs” of middle grades students, he said.

Marietta understands something of that, even if he’s never taught at the middle school level; his oldest daughter, age 11, is a sixth grader. He also has a 7-year-old daughter in first grade and an 18-month-old son.

The girls attend school in River Falls, Wis., where the Mariettas live. That makes for a long commute to work, but Marietta, who participates in ultramarathons and Ironman competitions, promised, “You will find me biking to work occasionally.”

That means he should get along well with his new neighbor, super-fit Washburn Principal Carol Markham-Cousins.

The district is opening Ramsey Middle School as part of a strategy to deal with increasing enrollment. Schools in Southwest neighborhoods — including nearby Anthony Middle School — are among the most popular and crowded in the district.

The school is projected to enroll about 170–220 sixth-grade students in the 2012–2013 school year, with most of the students coming from the Burroughs and Lyndale community schools. The school will add a grade in each of the following two school years, until it reaches about 600–850 students in 2014–2015.

More information on the school can be found at rms.mpls.k12.mn.us.