Being in command is nothing new to Debra Martin who is now working on her fourth year as principal of Alton Elementary. However, who she’s in charge of has definitely changed quite a bit over the years.
From leading soldiers to commanding elementary students, the transition from drill sergeant to principal is one Martin has made with ease, but that’s likely because she didn’t seek the profession of educator. Instead, the retired soldier says it chose her.
“It was during my job as a recruiter, going to career days in elementary schools and recruiting in high schools I fell in love with the children. That led me to my current career in the school system,” Martin said.
Martin served in the U.S. Army for over 20 years. She retired as a master sergeant but before that was selected to serve as a drill sergeant, a position not common for women at the time.
“The experiences I gained truly shaped and prepared me for life and the challenges of the job that I serve today,” she said.
After retiring from the military, Martin worked for a school system in Atlanta for five years. In 2004, she came home to Memphis to work as an administrator at Winchester Elementary and has been part of Shelby County Schools ever since.
Walking the hallways with Principal Martin, you’ll quickly see proof the students adore her. She doesn’t make it through a room without being met with lots of smiles and hugs—perks of the job.
And while the greeting from her elementary students is likely much different from the greeting she received from the soldiers she once led, Martin says the mission in serving both is the same.
“As I reflect on my years as a drill sergeant in the military I feel that I was preparing young men and women for their careers and laying a foundation for their future. As I reflect on leading the children in the school system, I feel that I am molding and shaping their future as well. I truly believe that as we touch the lives of our children today and show them that we love and care for them and help them learn and grow, we are preparing our leaders for tomorrow.”