Hillcrest High School’s first-year principal Marty Crawford describes himself as an educator brat.

“My dad was in administration, and my mom was a reading teacher, so I came out of the womb as an educator’s kid and have not desired to do anything else,” Crawford says.

That’s not the whole story. There was a time after Crawford earned his teaching certificate from Baylor University when education may not have been at the top of his career list. But who could blame him: He had just been drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies.

“I spent two years playing minor league baseball. It’s a life I don’t wish on anyone, but my life wouldn’t be complete without it.”

Even though he was considered a professional athlete, a salary of $1,200 a month made it impossible to support his young family, so they eventually moved to Oklahoma City so Crawford could earn his master’s degree at Oklahoma University and begin his career in education. Crawford says he has great memories of the experience and learned a lesson about the value of formal education in the process.

“Getting drafted and getting chosen – not a lot of people get to do that. I got to be a part of a big club and go through spring training, and now I’m seeing some of those guys in the big leagues,” he says, noting that his roommate on the road, Jimmy Rollins, is the starting shortstop for the Phillies.

“It’s not all ‘Bull Durham,’ though. Some of these career minor league managers didn’t have a formal education. One of the most important things was learning how to deal with those diverse personalities.”

Crawford has picked up life lessons he uses as an educator at every stage of his career. As an elementary PE teacher in Highland Park, he saw his influence on students first-hand.

“I think that was my favorite job. There’s something about elementary kids and the way they look up to teachers. They show up every day with a gleam in their eye. Like a ball of clay, they are so eager to be molded.”

From there he went to Trinity High School in the Hurst, Euless, Bedford ISD, where he was a teacher and baseball coach for three years. In his fourth year there, he was an administration intern under principal Andy Cargile. He says Cargile’s leadership style – empower the faculty to increase accountability – had a big influence on him.

Another principal, maybe you’ve heard of her – Johnlyn Mitchell, Hilldrest’s former chief – taught him the importance of getting to know the community and the students.

“She knew what was important to the community. But what really impressed me was what a huge advocate she was for the kids,” Crawford says. “Some people view the principal as a staunch disciplinarian who always caters to adults. Well, Johnlyn Mitchell decided she was going to be in it for the kids first. Hopefully, I will be able to carry on her legacy as the students’ principal.”

So far, Crawford appears to be on the right track, and he says it has a lot to do with the mission he and his staff formulated in August: “Develop relationships with kids early so we can offer a relevant and rigorous curriculum to students.”

Crawford says those personal relationships between teachers, principals and students have a direct effect on learning.

“Kids see school as a box full of stress, and one reason is because adults have made it difficult for them to see it any other way.”

He’s optimistic about the schedule of standardized tests next semester because of some new tutorial offerings and enrichment and remediation strategies initiated last semester. But Crawford says he is most excited about seeing this group of seniors graduate in May.

“This is a great class. They were sophomores when I first arrived. I’ve watched them grow from teens to young adults, and it’s going to be really neat to watch them walk across the stage.”

Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Preston Hollow.