By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Stopping by: His dream job: Being a teacher

Marcus Larson/News-Register ##
Marty Palacios said it was a tough decision to retire from a job he enjoys, assistant principal at Duniway Middle School. Previously a teacher, he said his career in education has given him the opportunity to shape the lives of many young people.
Marcus Larson/News-Register ## Marty Palacios said it was a tough decision to retire from a job he enjoys, assistant principal at Duniway Middle School. Previously a teacher, he said his career in education has given him the opportunity to shape the lives of many young people.

Marty Palacios had a great job on the management track at IBM, but it didn’t satisfy his desire to be a positive influence on others.

Teaching did.

“I could have chosen a profession where I’d make more money,” said Palacios, assistant principal at Duniway Middle School in McMinnville. “But few things change people’s lives more than teaching.”

Recently, he spoke with a man who had been one of his students in the migrant summer school program in the 1980s.

“He thanked me,” he said, savoring an emotional benefit far more important than salary.

He put it another way. “We’re a lot of time focused on the close side of the tree,” said Palacios, retiring this month after 32 years in education. “This was a chance to be reminded of the other side, of why I’ve done this.”

Palacios grew up in San Jose, California. He married his wife, Deborah, in 1980 and began working in the mailroom at IBM. 

The company offered support for employees continuing their education, and he took advantage of that. He advanced to become a member of IBM’s site services team. He enjoyed working with the engineers, helping develop ideas and training others at the 17,000-employee facility.

But over the years, “the dream of being a teacher awakened,” he said. 

It wasn’t just the idea of teaching that led him to quit IBM in 1986.

“I remember that day,” he said. “We’d just had our second son. I thought, ‘What will I say to them when they ask what to do with their lives?’”

He wanted to be able to advise his sons to follow their dreams; to take a risk, rather than stagnating in a job just because it was safe and stable.

“I got up and told the manager, ‘I’m leaving,’” he recalled.

Palacios and his family moved to McMinnville. They had visited his wife’s relatives in the area, and thought the city of about 13,000 would be a positive place to raise their kids.

“Every decision has been thoughtful,” Palacios said. “I think about the impact on my family; what does this mean for my children?”

He continued, “first I think of my family, then of the children in the community.  I have a deep commitment to the community, where I live and how I give.”

Palacios, for whom Spanish is a second language, soon found a job with the Chapter 1 Migrant Program. The federally funded program served children of transitory workers, most of whom were native Spanish speakers.

He worked in migrant classrooms in Wascher, Newby, Cook and Adams schools. 

Both Palacios and his wife also returned to school to support their new careers. At Linfield College, he studied education with a focus on social studies and language arts. 

He assumed he would work in a high school or maybe a junior high or middle school. But his first job after graduating in 1989 was teaching at Cook Elementary School, which has since been replaced by Buel Elementary; Cook now serves as the school district office.

Later, he earned a master’s degree from Western Oregon State University and a doctorate from George Fox University.

During nine years at Cook, he taught fourth- and fifth-grades and a two-three blend.

“I built deep relationships with those kids,” he said. “I still know them now that they’re in their 30s and 40s.”

He laughed about his long tenure in the school district. In recent years at Duniway, he said, he not only has seen the offspring of former students, but he has worked “with kids whose parents I taught.”

Palacios prides himself on being “a known quantity,” always available to current and former students. That puts him in the perfect position to help students who’ve struggled, both with academic work and with learning self-control, he said.

“You have to be open to support and help them,” he said. “I take time to listen and honestly express care for someone. That never misses.”

From Cook, Palacios moved to Adams in its final year as a grade school. He and the rest of the staff moved to the new Grandhaven building the following year.

He taught third grade. “That was good preparation for working in middle school,” he recalled with a laugh. 

Students that age are “a ton of fun,” he said. But like middle schoolers, “they grow over the course of the year and start to appear bigger and older than they really are — or think they are.”

During his years as a third-grade teacher, his three youngest children were in elementary school. He felt very connected, he said, since he knew many kids not just as his students, but also as his children’s friends.

“I was a father and I was a teacher. It made me better at both,” he said. “It made me constantly reflect, is this the moment to listen? To ask? To advise?”

Still, he said, he always was conscious of maintaining boundaries with his students. He told them, “I’m not your mom, your dad, your grandpa. We’re friendly, but we’re not friends; I’m the teacher.”

Palacios taught for 15 years before moving to administration.

A wonderful day in the classroom, he said, was “when I’d step back and realized I’d done everything I needed to do to structure the class, set expectations and make sure kids are comfortable with me, with the class and with each other, so then we could move along in learning,” he said.

He said he always wants students to be “comfortable enough to question you and challenge things with respect.” In addition, he strives to “maintain an environment where learning is the highest value.”

And in his experience, he said, “that happens more often than not.”

Palacios likes to consider things. “I want decisions to be based on values and data,” he said. 

He said he wants to invest in people and bring them along, rather than dictating what they must do. “I like to help my colleagues, point out the positives, give to others and help benefit the whole,” he said.

That philosophy led him to pursue an administrative role, where he could have impact over more than one classroom full of students.

As the 2005-06 school year approached, he said, Cathy Carnahan called him and asked him to become her assistant principal at Duniway Middle School. 

“Working with Cathy was fabulous,” he said of the woman who would soon become state, then national, middle school principal of the year. 

“Cathy gave me room to run,” he said. “We had a similar way of thinking about kids.”

Carnahan retired in 2016. Palacios said he has enjoyed working with Duniway Principal Hilary Brittan Lack since then.

Over the years, as both a teacher and administrator, he said he realized the best way to make a difference is to form strong relationships, which requires “modeling what it takes to care for others.”

He said he has always tried to be a role model, both for his own children and those he works with in schools. That’s one of the reasons he pursued his doctorate.

“I wanted to show them I wanted to become more than I was, and that they can do that, too,” he said.

As a Hispanic man, he felt it was especially important to send that message to Latino students. He wanted them to see themselves as capable of anything.

“I’ve had them say to me, ‘if you can be a doctor, so can I,’” he recalled. And hearing that “made all the hard work worthwhile.”

When Palacios was a middle school student himself, “school was like purgatory,” he said. He wasn’t engaged in his learning, figuring that these days, he probably would be in a remedial program.

But his parents urged him to make an effort. His father made sure he got out of bed and off to school on time.

After finishing high school, Palacios worked whatever “nasty jobs” he could find. Those jobs taught him he needed to learn and do more, especially if he wanted to support a family.

His wife’s family also reinforced the importance of education. “They really woke me up,” he said.

Because of his own experiences, he and his wife ensured their own children valued education from the beginning. “Our poor kids couldn’t get away with anything,” he said with a laugh.

Their hard work, overseen by their parents, paid off. All grew up to be successful. And two followed their father into education: Eric works in the LRC program at Patton Middle School, and Amy, who started her career teaching kindergarten at Wascher Elementary, is a music teacher in Wilsonville.

Not only that, Palacios said proudly. “All of my kids have embraced the value of service to others” he said.

He’ll still work with kids

Longtime McMinnville educator Marty Palacios said he debated long and hard before deciding to retire this year.

“It’s hard to think of leaving something you love,” said Palacios, who taught elementary school before becoming assistant principal of Duniway Middle School.

But he has other interests to pursue, as well. “I want to still keep giving,” he said. “I have no plans, really, but lots of interests.”

He will spend more time on his music and continue as a worship leader in his church. And he hopes to serve as a mentor to younger people — especially his granddaughter and three grandsons.


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