A Pennsylvania Teacher’s Inspiring Climb to Principal

How Dawn Martesi’s journey with Verizon Innovative Learning sparked a career transformation
Mar 11, 2024 2:00 PM ET


When Dawn Martesi started college, she hadn’t yet considered becoming a teacher. Education was important to her and her family — Martesi’s mother was always adamant that her daughter get a good education — but it wasn’t until she started working at a daycare during college that she found her calling.

“I remember the daycare director,” Martesi says. “She told me, ‘You’re going to be a teacher — you know that, right?’”

From that point, Martesi, now the principal at Mill Creek Elementary School in Levittown, Pennsylvania, started her journey into education. Martesi earned a bachelor’s degree in the field, as well as a master's in reading, then worked as a literacy coach and English Language Arts special education teacher for over a decade.

But it was becoming a coach at her school’s Verizon Innovative Learning program that would change the trajectory of Martesi’s career. She led the program’s tech integration at Neil A. Armstrong Middle School in Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania, which was one of the first schools in the program. In this role, Martesi ensured teachers and students alike made the most of the devices, data plans and professional development provided by Verizon.

It wasn’t smooth sailing, initially. Martesi says she wasn’t comfortable with the technology at first, but her love of her students pushed her through the challenge. “I cared about growing our school,” she says. “It didn’t matter that we didn’t have experience with the technology. We knew it was about the kids, and we held on to that. As long as you know your ‘why,’ you're going to be okay.”

Remembering her “why,” Martesi dove into her new role in a creative way. She was the mentor to Tiger Tech, Armstrong's student tech team composed of middle and high school students for the Verizon Innovative Learning program. These students act as an in-house IT department. The opportunity to be on the team provided participating students with a leadership role (and influenced some of them to later pursue STEM majors and careers). Leading the team also inspired Martesi to take on more. As a coach, she presented to teachers, ran district-wide professional development training and participated in curriculum meetings with the superintendent.

“I didn’t look at [the coach] position as a tech position,” she adds. “I felt very strongly that my position was really important as an advocate for teachers and a liaison for the teachers between the administration, community and students.”

Thanks to the experience, Martesi decided to pursue administration, receiving the certifications she needed to work her way up to principal, as well as obtaining a second master’s degree in administration and curriculum. “After being a [Verizon Innovative Learning Schools] Coach, I saw that in a different leadership role, I can have a larger say in what programs we have and how we get kids and families more involved,” Martesi explains. “I’m not just impacting my class: I can impact entire grade levels and schoolwide systems. From this position, you can have a bigger ripple effect.”

Martesi moved from assistant principal at a high school to her new principal role in summer 2023. As principal, she hopes to integrate STEM education into the curriculum and is determined to foster an environment where students and their families can thrive.

“I want to make sure I build community,” Martesi says. “I want kids to leave here as problem-solvers, readers, creators and thinkers, so when they hit those difficult adolescent years, they’re better equipped and they can really be the best people they can be.”