The school year doesn’t officially begin for six weeks, but new Nevada Union High School Principal Marty Mathiesen was hunkered down in his office this week, already working overtime.
His task? Revising and doling out teaching assignments and schedules for the upcoming year on a color-coded wall calendar that stretched the length of his barren bunker.
Mathiesen, an erstwhile minor-league pitching prospect and college basketball standout whose family’s teaching lineage stretches back two generations, looked at the schedule and the corresponding rolls and stacks of paper and pondered his task.
“This school is amazing for what we offer kids,” said Mathiesen, hired this spring after serving eight years as principal of Fortuna High School in Humboldt County. “We’re trying to prescribe a schedule to give every student something they need,” he said, rolling out one of a myriad of sports metaphors he uses to describe his new job.
“I don’t need five point guards or five forwards or five centers,” said Mathiesen, whose father earned a decent living coaching roundball squads in the college and overseas ranks. “I need a team that fits.”
By most accounts, Mathiesen has found his team. It’s early – skeptics could call this the honeymoon phase of Mathiesen’s tenure – but the new principal, 43, is committed to leading a staff and students that, to use a popular coaching term, jells.
So he’s out visiting students wherever he can: in the gyms, at the grocery store, and at the basketball camps held inside the “House of Pain,” a basketball court near Nevada Union’s administrative offices that serves as the Lady Miners’ home court.
“There’s absolutely no way I’m going to give anything less than a full effort,” said Mathiesen, who estimates he’s shaken hands with about 80 percent of Nevada Union’s nearly 200-member faculty.
It’s an experienced faculty, he says, that can serve as an invaluable asset to the new principal as he assembles schedules in his barren office, crammed with stacks of old black-and-white photos culled from the sportsman’s past: a team snapshot of the 1983 Fresno Giants minor-league team, another with Mathiesen as a player on his father Pete’s 1986 basketball team at Chico State; and a third, a sepia-toned photograph of his grandfather Marty’s 1937 Williams High School baseball team.
Sports, Mathiesen admits, will always be a big part of his life, and it doesn’t bother him that some label the tall, tanned principal more as a coach than teacher.
“You don’t separate the two. It’s about educating kids. I’ve been cast that arena all my life,” he said.
But it’s a weather-beaten gold nameplate that’s perhaps Marty Mathiesen’s most valued possession. It carries his grandfather’s name etched on a weathered slab of wood, a memento the younger Mathiesen has carried since his first teaching job in Colusa, when a skeptical principal who knew of Mathiesen’s formidable coaching chops questioned his ability to lead a classroom.
Now, 16 years later, Mathiesen hopes to live up to the reputation carved by his grandfather, who died recently after serving for 50 years as a teacher and superintendent in Sunnyvale and the Fremont Unified School District.
“That guy’s my hero,” the younger Mathiesen said. “If I follow in his footsteps, I’d be the happiest guy.”
Behind Nevada Union’s new principal is a wax board with a chart scribbled with the words “commitment,” “trust” and “expectations.”
As Nevada Union’s sixth principal in the last four years, those expectations are high indeed.
“A lot of times people come up to me and say, ‘Hey, how long are you going to stick around?'”
Mathiesen, like all school-level administrators in the district, is signed to a one-year contract, but that should have little impact on his ability to do the job, Superintendent Maggie Deetz said.
“Marty is more concerned about doing a quality job,” she said.
“We’re not just talking about for the teachers at NU, but the community, as well,” she said. “I’m looking for a change of culture and an open door to the parents and the community,” something many Nevada Union stakeholders said was lacking in previous years.
“I think everyone is ready for some change,” Deetz said. That change became evident, she said, when Mathiesen first reported for work June 17, two weeks before his official start date.
Mike Bratton, a parent and observer of Nevada Union’s goings-on for more than 15 years, is one of those ready for new beginnings.
“He may possibly be the leader that NU hasn’t had in a while,” he said.
“I think it’s very refreshing to get someone of his seemingly endless enthusiasm, his leadership and his stature,” said Bratton, who was on the search committee that picked Mathiesen. “If the school board and the superintendent support him, he’s going to get the job done, if he’s allowed to do the job he set out to do.”
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