One step into Principal office can tell a lot about him as a person: his wall covered with New York Yankees pictures, plaques and banners gives a hint as to which baseball team he supports; the framed picture of him from his first year of teaching at (70s haircut and all), shows his good sense of humor.
But one of the most telling things about him shows on his desk – every little gift a student has given him throughout his 39 years at New Hyde Park Memorial still remains on his desk, which shows how strongly he believes in the philosophy by which he runs his school – “student centered.”
His path to New Hyde Park Memorial wasn’t a short one. Born and raised in Chelsea, Manhattan, DeMartino was not an educator at first. Following his graduation he went into the U.S. Army, serving in the National Guard as well as the reserve; he left after 32 years of service, retiring as a colonel.
It was then that he started his teaching career, first at the Catholic school he went to as a child, then as a social studies teacher at New Hyde Park Memorial. His stay there, though, was brief.
“I quit to go work in the family business,” he said. “I felt I had to do it.”
The endeavor didn’t last long – after a little more than a year, he reapplied to New Hyde Park Memorial.
“I wasn’t happy,” he recalls. “I missed the school environment.”
The social studies teacher position, however, was no longer available. The only open spot was replacing a guidance counselor who was on maternity leave. Since he did have a degree in the field, he took the position, turning what was thought to be a temporary position panned out to be a 15 year job.
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Since he had been with the school for so long and had built a good rapport with students and staff alike, he was asked to apply for the open assistant principal position. He was successful, staying in the job for 14 years.
Four years ago, when the previous principal retired, he was moved up to the head of the school. During his time as principal, the school thrived: in the 2010 Middle States Evaluation, they said, “we wish we could clone the school and spread it across the country.” To DeMartino, that was one of the peaks of his career.
“That’s the best comment you could ask for,” he said.
The reason the school received that evaluation was simple, he says: he created a philosophy and stuck to it.
“Everything is ‘what’s in the best interest of the students?’ We have a family atmosphere. Everyone cares about each other.”
DeMartino helps keep this atmosphere by making himself as present as possible – as often as he can, he walks the halls, stops by cafeterias and goes to after school events.
“You gotta get out,” he said. “You gotta be visible.”
This attitude towards his work is what kept students coming to him for advice and even just to say hello even after graduation.
As he prepares for the 2012 graduation this Sunday at Hofstra, DeMartino hopes that this attitude towards students is what he leaves behind for the school.
“Keep it a nice place to go to school,” he said. “Keep it a nice place to teach and a nice place to learn.”