At first glance it almost appears that Martin Cox’s vocation as an educator was sparked by chance.
As a child, Cox — who recently became principal at DeSales High School in Geneva — had never really thought about going into the education field. He attended Niagara University and Ohio University, graduating from the latter in 1981 with a bachelor’s degree in communications.
After college, Cox moved west to El Paso, Texas, and then Santa Rosa, Calif., where he worked as a weekend sports anchor for a TV station.
“Right behind the parking lot of the TV station was a Catholic elementary school. I was in need of more employment part time, so back in 1982 I approached the principal of the school seeking substitute work,” Cox said.
The principal agreed to hire him as a substitute, and the next year Cox took a full-time teaching job at the school.
“I eventually realized that I enjoyed the experience of teaching so much that I wanted to pursue that,” he said.
Cox moved back east in 1989, and in 1993 he earned his master’s degree in elementary education from Nazareth College in Pittsford. He’s been an educator ever since, thanks to the fortuitous placement of a television station next to a Catholic school. Or so it would seem.
Upon closer inspection, however, one can see that chance and luck really had nothing to do with his love of education, and especially Catholic education. A product of Catholic education himself, Cox grew up in Greece, where his family belonged to Our Mother of Sorrows Parish and he attended the parish school through eighth grade.
Cox then attended Cardinal Mooney High School, which was operated by the Sisters of Mercy and Brothers of the Holy Cross. Cardinal Mooney closed in 1989, but the teachers and coaches Cox encountered during his own years as a student left a lasting impression on him. They inspired him, and even today he said he tries to model his behavior after their example.
“The (leadership) style that I use comes from having a lot of role models and mentors in my life,” Cox said. “It probably all began with Ed Nietopski.”
Nietopski spent 25 years at Cardinal Mooney, where he was a teacher, athletic director, and baseball and basketball coach. After Cardinal Mooney closed he began working at Irondequoit’s Bishop Kearney High School, from which he retired in 2004 after setting a record as Section V’s winningest basketball coach.
“I remember being a student and he inspired everyone around him. I was one of those people (he inspired) and I didn’t even play on his varsity team,” Cox recalled. “He made me feel good about being at school every day based on his outgoing, positive approach. I try to convey the same thing when I’m working with students today.”
Other role models along the way also have taught Cox about the importance of bringing others in the school community together and making them part of the decision-making process, he said. As such, Cox devoted much of his first few weeks at DeSales to getting to know the school’s faculty, students, parents and investors.
His primary focus has been to build and strengthen professional relationships with all the members of the DeSales community. He holds regular “intake meetings” with faculty and staff to learn what they expect from him as a leader and what views they hold about DeSales. Each morning he stands outside and greets students as they come in, spending a few moments to learn their names, hobbies and expectations. He also tries to provide parents with opportunities to express their own opinions about the school.
“When we develop professional relationships, I believe the trust is built,” Cox said. “When we have trust in a school setting, to me the sky is the limit in terms of what we can do.”
Cox has asked a lot of questions during his time on the job at DeSales, something he said is important for any new administrator.
“It’s important as a first-year principal to study the climate and culture of the school and learn the history,” said Cox, who lives in Fairport and belongs to Church of the Assumption Parish.
The high-school setting represents a change for Cox, whose first position after earning his master’s degree was as a first-grade teacher at Allendale Columbia School in Rochester. In 1995 he left Allendale Columbia to teach fourth grade in the Rochester City School District. He then taught third grade in the Pittsford Central School District from 1996 until 2002.
Cox earned his certificate of advanced studies in school administration from SUNY Brockport in 2002 and has since served as principal in the Union Springs Central School District in Cayuga County and the Iroquois Central School District in Erie County. Although he’s only been at DeSales for a short time, he said so far it’s been “an incredible experience.”
“I find it to be very exciting to be working in the high-school setting. The kids here at DeSales have a great amount of spirit and energy and a great approach to everything they do,” Cox said.
“I enjoy the diversity of the daily routine,” he continued. “It’s very exciting to work with all members of a school community to lead them to make decisions that are in the best interests of the students. That’s what we’re here for.”