Utah's new schools superintendent avoids politics, shares his story

Published November 20, 2013 10:12 am
Martell Menlove gives his first State of Education address.
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Martell Menlove, Utah's newest superintendent of public instruction, put politics on a shelf Tuesday in his first State of Education address.

He spent but a few seconds talking about his hopes for the next legislative session, his second as superintendent; he took over in January.

Rather, Menlove introduced himself as a lifelong teacher, principal and administrator from a long line of educators.

His great-great grandfather, a Mormon pioneer in the 1856 Martin Handcart Co., was a Payson trustee for years. Every generation since has had principals and teachers.

Two of Menlove's sisters are educators, four of his five children have teaching degrees, and his wife, Rep. Ronda Rudd Menlove, R-Garland, was a public school teacher and now teaches at Utah State University.

Menlove talked poignantly of his father, Ralph Menlove, who was superintendent of Juab School District.

His father suffered permanent brain damage in a car accident in 1971, while his companions in the car, including M. Lynn Bennion — namesake of the Salt Lake City elementary where Menlove gave his address Tuesday — were unhurt.

For months, Bennion would visit his father in a Salt Lake hospital and after he returned home to Nephi. Menlove said.

"Dad never recovered from the accident. He spent the rest of his life being cared for. That situation is one of the reasons I've chosen to enter into this profession as a public educator," Menlove said.

"My life has, for the last 60-plus years, evolved and revolved around education and public schools."

He shared witty anecdotes from his career, such as his first day as a principal at Stansbury Park Elementary, when he had no idea what to do with himself. He picked up a book and read until recess, when he could play four-square with fifth-graders.

Menlove's personal touch Tuesday night was perfect, said Alan Hall, an Ogden businessman who is chairman of Prosperity 2020, an effort to strengthen the economy by improving education.

"His heart is in this job. He's not a bureaucrat," Hall said.

"You want a leader who has a heartfelt sentiment."

Much of Menlove's speech was directed toward Utah's 30,000 public school teachers and their administrators, who could listen to the message via radio broadcasts. Roughly 60 attended the address.

Menlove said Utah has a "tremendous" education system that is the most effective and efficient he has seen.

"We accomplish more with the limited resources we have than anyone else I know," he said.

The superintendent briefly mentioned the $70 million he'll request the Legislature spend to keep current programs and educate 12,000 more children next year. He'll also ask for more money for teaching third-grade reading, middle school math, technology, assessments and stemming the high drop-out rate.

Last year, Menlove's predecessor, Larry Shumway, was pointed in his request for lawmakers to bring Utah up from the bottom of states in per-capita education funding.

Four things keep Menlove awake at night, he said: the new end-of-year tests, which might result in lower test scores at first; the challenge of putting 2,000 to 3,000 new high-quality teachers in classrooms in the next few years; school safety in an era of tragedies; and whether schools are preparing students socially as well as academically for their futures.

Specifically, Menlove said he worries about how his 2-year-old granddaughter, Daisy, who has disabilities, will be treated when she enters school. And he worries about the boy who will ask her to prom in 2028.

"What I really worry about is if Daisy will love school and want to be there."


Twitter: @KristenMoulton



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