Janet Maull-Martin has had a lot of firsts in her lifetime.
She was a member of the first graduating class of Cape Henlopen High School in 1970; she played on her college's first womens basketball team; and she later developed a program at Cape High that won the school's first Superstars in Education award.
The list goes on – and by all accounts would continue to do so – but at 61, Maull-Martin said retirement is calling her name.
“I am sure someway, I'll still be involved in the school. You probably haven't seen the last of me,” she said with a smile.
Sitting in her airy, corner office at the end of the freshmen hallway, Maull-Martin recalls growing up in the Cape Region, culminating with the assistant principal position at the high school.
Born in Wilmington in 1952, Maull-Martin moved to Lewes in 1958 with her parents, Joseph and Edith, seven brothers and two sisters. She started school at the Fred Thomas school, a segregated school built by the du Ponts to educate black children. She had a chance to attend Lewes Public School in seventh-grade, she said, but she chose to go to William C. Jason Comprehensive High School in Georgetown – the countywide high school for minority children before schools were fully integrated.
“I had two older brothers and a sister at Jason, so I wanted to go there, too,” she said. “I had one year there and then it closed. Then I went to Lewes High School.”
The support Maull-Martin received from her teachers in the segregated system was priceless, she said.
“I was encouraged and told by my teachers everyday that I could do what they do,” she said.
Their hugs and praises may have disappeared when she attended integrated schools, but she said their strength stayed with her.
Intergration wasn't easy, she said. She recalls raising her hand with a question in one class, and the teacher ignoring her. Insulted, she broke down in tears.
Athletic, with fast feet and a willingness learn, Maull-Martin said she was recruited by field hockey coach Carolyn Ivens to play for the team. She was soon on varsity and is forever grateful to her hockey teammates for helping her feel accepted.
“They took me under their wing,” she said. “The first year was difficult, but they made me feel a part of the team.”
By 1970, Lewes, Milton and Rehoboth high schools merged to become Cape Henlopen High School, where Maull-Martin earned her high school diploma.
College and back
Maull-Martin said she knew her father wanted her to go to college; his dream to become a history teacher ended after only two years in college when he left to join the workforce and put his younger siblings through school.
Like her father, college experience was cut short. Maull-Martin returned home for good after three semesters at Delaware State College, but it wasn't for financial reasons. “I just wasn't happy,” she said.
Neither was her father.
“He didn't speak to me for six months. He would look at me and walk away,” she said. “As I got older, I understood why he wanted me to go to college.”
She took a job for a few months at a clothing factory before she realized it wasn't for her. “I sewed everything wrong, piecemeal,” she said.
The day she quit the factory, she said, she walked straight to her high school counselor's home where she happened to meet the daughter of the president of Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. Through the chance connection – and strong encouragement from the president's daughter – Maull-Martin decided to go back to college.
“I went home and told my father, 'I know you haven't been happy, but I'm going back to college,” she said.
He was very happy, she said, and so was she with the small college east of Ashville.
“I used to call it a small United Nations,” she said. “I had roommates from India and Ethiopia and met people from all walks of life.”
Everyone worked at the college; Maull-Martin proved her leadership skills by working her way up to president of the Women's Interdormitory Council – a position, among other things, that monitored visiting hours by men in the womens dorm.
Bachelor's degree in hand, Maull-Martin returned to Lewes in 1975 and turned in applications across the Cape Region for a teaching job. She received no answer until the day before school was to start, she said.
A fourth-grade substitute position at H.O. Brittingham turned into a full-time fifth-grade math spot at the Federal Street elementary school – today's Milton Elementary School.
Over the next decade, Maull-Martin taught, co-taught and coached. There was little she did not do when it came to school.
While working on her master's degree from Delaware State University, Maull-Martin said, she created a program to improve self-esteem among at-risk students. IMPACT – improvement, motivation, performance, attitude, coping techniques – gave students an opportunity to work together outside of a classroom setting.
“There are adults out there who went through the program as students who still tell me it was great,” she said. “It was a close-knit group of young people. ... they learned to accept one another and work together.”
Unfortunately, she said, self-esteem is not something that is on state tests, and the IMPACT program was eliminated.
In 1997, Maull-Martin got her first administrative job as a Title I coordinator at Shields Elementary. Three years later she was named assistant principal at H.O. Brittingham Elementary; two years later she was back at Shields, this time as principal.
She briefly retired in 2006 after a niece passed away, but later returned as a substitute assistant principal at the high school, which turned into a permanent position.
This time, though, Maull-Martin said her retirement's for real.
“I've seen and heard it all,” she said.
She plans to spend more time with her husband, Gavin, who is also retired, and with her son JD and granddaughter Jaidyn.
“We're going to travel and enjoy the family, and do other things that I never got involved in,” she said.