Moving and beginning a new job have been described as two of the biggest stressors in a person’s life. The new Friday Harbor High School Principal, Martin Yablonovsky, and his family kicked the stress meter higher by moving across states in the middle of a health crisis for his new job.
“This pandemic has really been a challenge for us all,” Yablonovsky said. “However, life goes on and we do find ways to be happy and even thrive in these challenging times. People have been very welcoming to me and my family.”
Yablonovsky explained in an open letter to the community that his career aspiration was to work in a rural school. He said he feels he is able to connect on a deeper and more meaningful level with smaller communities. Along those lines, it is harder for students to fall through the cracks in rural schools, he said.
“That said, rural schools see employees wearing multiple hats to get things done,” Yablonovsky said.
Yablonovsky spent the last 14 years in Salt Lake City, Utah, and taught for nine years in Alaska prior to that. He said Alaska one of his favorite places to teach.
“I fell in love with the Yupik Eskimo people and their culture,” Yablonovsky said. “While my job was to teach math, I felt that I learned much more from the students and their families than they did from me.”
The road to becoming a principal began fairly early for Yablonovsky. During his younger years, he dreamed of being a professional baseball player. In high school, however, he was given an assignment where he had to give a talk about what he wanted to be when he grew up. When Yablonovsky listed ball player as his career of choice, his teacher pulled him aside.
“She insisted I find an alternate career in case my plans didn’t materialize on the field,” Yablonovsky said. “I remember vividly, like it was yesterday, walking next door to our school’s gymnast thinking about the assignment. I thought, ‘Since I love school so much, why don’t I become a teacher or maybe a principal?’”
A career in education has been an adventure for Yablonovsky, whose job history includes math and science teacher, a coach, and a principal at a charter school.
“I’ve appreciated all the jobs I’ve had,” Yablonovsky said.
Yablonovsky said that great principals make every decision with students in mind.
“How is this decision going to help all students succeed? What decisions do we need to make to catch those students that may be struggling or not engaging in the school opportunities,” Yablonovsky said. “A good principal works hard, works well with students, parents, teachers, and everyone, [and] understands how to help in any way to move the group toward the desired outcomes.”
Understanding the importance of the impact teachers have on the lives of their students is also key, Yablonovsky added.
“I’ve already gotten to know many of the teachers here and I am impressed,” Yablonovsky said. “These educators really are top-notch and I will look for ways to support them in their classrooms.”
Yablonovsky had not visited the islands prior to applying. He said it was during a tour of the school that his heart became set on the job.
‘The students I met during my interview were an amazing bunch of young adults. Their unique personalities really came through,” Yablonovsky said. “I could tell they were invested in their own education, they enjoyed school, they worked hard, and they had great plans for their future. I could tell they cared for and respected each other.”
Yablonovsky and his family arrived in their new home mid-June.
“First impression? Could there be a better place to enjoy a summer? The weather is perfect and there have been many times when I stopped to take in the beauty of the place,” Yablonovsky said.
One of his favorite past-times is motorcycle riding, and on the island, he said the rides have felt unreal on multiple occasions.
Other favorite activities include chess, spending time with his family and being outdoors.
“We have such a beautiful view of Mount Baker, it’s calling me,” Yablonovsky said. He had also planned on running the Orcas Island ultra-marathon prior to moving.
Settling in and meeting new people has been a challenge, given everyone has been staying home and self-isolating because of the pandemic.
“It seems that there is always a silver lining. Even though making new friends maybe a challenge at the moment, I’m grateful for the time we have had as a family these last couple months exploring the beauties of San Juan Island,” Yablonovsky said. “I look forward to a memorable 2020-21 school year, and meeting all of you.”