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South Salt Lake Journal

Martin Bates retires after 11 years as GSD superintendent

Aug 02, 2021 01:23PM ● By Bill Hardesty

Former GSD Superintendent Martin Bates talks with students. He retired June 30 after 26 years of service—11 of them as superintendent. (Courtesy of Granite School District)

By Bill Hardesty | [email protected]

Ahh…the blessings of retirement.

“I will go to bed at night on the 30th (of June) and turn my phone off, and it will be the first time in 11 years. So that it won’t wake me up at five on the first, and so I’ll sleep a little bit longer, maybe,” said Martin W. Bates, retiring superintendent of Granite School District.

Bates has worked for the Granite School District for 26 years—the last 11 as superintendent. Richard Nye took the reins on July 1. 


In his retirement Bates plans to be a more hands-on grandpa. 

“We’ve got five and two-thirds grandchildren, and I’m jealous of the time my wife gets to spend with them,” Bates said. “In the past, she calls me from Thanksgiving Point at the dinosaur museum, or, from the zoo. They’re watching this baby gorilla grow up, and I’m texting from meetings that I’m in, so I’m looking forward to being a grandpa.”

Bates told a story that one of his sons called because he needed to take a couch to the dump. Bates had the truck, but he had to schedule it in two weeks. “I ought to be able to go help him when he needs help. I shouldn’t have to schedule those two weeks from now.”

The Bates are also planning some traveling, and they hope to serve missions for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

11 years of change

Bates mentioned that technology had changed education over his years as superintendent. For example, he told a story about a measles outbreak in a high school 10 years ago. In that case, anyone who couldn’t show their shot record for measles had to go home without access to education until they were vaccinated. 

“I was looking at the technology that we had, and I said, ‘We got to be able to teach from a distance. We got to have the tools for that,’” Bates said.

He credited this measles experience as the catalyst for preparing GSD for 2020. In between, the district did a lot of work about distance learning, but it was just theoretical. Then, with school closing, the plans went from theory to reality.

“It was what a shock. Frankly, I’m so honored to have worked with people, shoulder to shoulder with people who stepped forward and did things they’ve never done before. In an environment where they were just more than a little bit uncomfortable,” Bates said. “Technologically infrastructure wise. We were perhaps a little more prepared for what happened this past year because of that experience that we’d had 10 years previously.”

Another change is the morphing GSD demographics. Social-economic demographics continue to shift, and Bates says that the district and teachers had to move their teaching. 

“We don’t have any teachers that are teaching the same way they were teaching 10 years ago because they’ve got different students and different families in different neighborhoods,” Bates said.

Ben Horsley, GSD communications director, added, “I think there’s this notion that school buildings and classrooms still look like it did when somebody graduated 10 years ago, 20 years ago, or 30 years ago. I think most people wouldn’t recognize what instruction looks like or what that classroom looks like.”

Bates mentioned the importance of adopting best practices. He noted that there is so much more knowledge about teaching and learning than a decade ago. 

“Especially in our secondary schools, classes and classrooms and schedules don’t look like they did before. We’ve got this technical center next door where students are working with cadavers,” Bates said. “We’ve got second and third graders that are multiplying and dividing fractions. They used to not do that until sixth grade. So, the teachers had to step up because that’s where our society or community needs schools to do.”

Another change is the increasing amount of public interaction. Bates observed that he had been more engaged with the public than his predecessors. For example, he started to hold town hall meetings throughout the district. He also created 400 to 500 “snapshots,” short videos where Bates answered a question. Bates said they ranged from “It is OK to eat our desk?” to “What are we doing with Special Ed challenges?”

Another change is the demands on schools. Bates mentioned how the Armstrong Academy has these really tall tables for kids to sit around. The tables force students to lean into each other.

“Just by the way it’s set up, they do group work. So, we’re able to do group work and research and productivity in real-world kinds of ways. Because the real workforce works in groups, they work in teams,” Bates said. “We are building schools so they can do much more real-world practice and use real-world tools, elementary through high school. So, from the very architecture of the building to teaching methodology, we’re changing.”

Administration accomplishments

Bates was hesitant to list his administration accomplishments, but he did share some thoughts.

“I think what we’ve done transitioning from a textbook lecture style to an interactive student production style. We’ve jumped miles in that direction,” Bates said.

He mentioned they were always creative and aggressive in hiring and retention. They always were fully staffed on the first day of every school year. They focused on employees and their families. One of these creative initiatives is the creation of the GSD Wellness Center. The center is an instacare for GSD employee and their families and is entirely free. GSD is the only school district to have such an employee benefit.

“I think we do, community engagement, better than we’ve ever done. Because kids go to school, but they’re also part of a larger community,” Bates said. “We get to work with their families and businesses and communities and siblings and parents.”

GSD operates 30+ Family Engagement Centers at elementary, junior high, and high schools. Besides help for parents to interact with the district, many of these centers have food pantries. In addition, Bates served on the Utah Refugee Connection board, which is closely affiliated with the district, and on the Department of Workforce Services for refugee board.

“My mother was a refugee, so I’m a first-generation American. English is my second language. And so, I look at those kids, and I see me. I see myself,” Bates said. “The difference. It’s all in education. Education is what it’s all about. And that’s the future for everybody. So, the education this little gal, this little guy gets while they’re sitting in one of my schools is going to affect them and their children and their children’s children.”

Horsley added that respect of his peers is another accomplishment.

“If you talk to any of his peers at the Superintendent’s Association, they will point out that Granite is always considered one of the more innovative and progressive organizations and looking to enhance student learning,” Horsley said. “He knows each and every mayor in Granite School District, by name and they know him, and they know they can call him. If they have questions or concerns, and so he has preeminent credibility and stature.”

Message to students

To the students of GSD, Bates’ farewell message is: “We’ve done our best to give every one of them a teacher who cares about them and is going to give them what they need to be able to take the next step forward on their way to successful college career and lifetime experiences.”

Message to teachers, staff and district employees

To the employees of GSD, Bates said, “There is no greater profession. There’s no more honorable profession than education. When I say education, I’m talking about the classroom teacher and the principals who oversee and direct. But, still, none of us could do our work if it weren’t for custodians, for grounds, for glazers, for painters and HVAC technicians. Students couldn’t go to school if it were the same temperature inside as it is outside in January or in June.”