Profile of Martha Perry, Principal, St. Clement's School
Martha Perry, Principal (since 2010), BEd, MEd
Martha Perry has a long history at St. Clement’s School—first as a student, then as an alum, and now as principal. She arrived at St. Clement’s in Grade 7, graduating Grade 13 in 1985.
Upon graduation, she studied sociology at McMaster, and then completed her bachelor of education at York University. She then completed a master’s degree in education from Nippissing University.
She spent several years in the independent school system including as a teacher at Montcrest School, as an assistant head of academics at Pickering College, and as director of academic support and the advisor program at Trinity College School. She returned to St. Clement’s School in 2010. She calls her return to St. Clement’s a “coming home,” and says it has created many opportunities for reflection.
“Back in my day there wasn’t explicit conversation about what the purpose of a girls’ school was, why it was different. It’s been a fantastic reflective journey for me in returning.”
While she spent most of her career in coed environments, returning to St. Clement’s reminded Perry of the benefits of being in an all-girls environment. “That girls’ experience really affords the opportunity for authenticity: being yourself, letting your guard down, not being worried about exceeding. Our girls—they have high expectations to achieve and they don’t have to apologize for that.”
One of the goals Perry has for St. Clement’s is to nurture girls’ ability to use their voices. “Voice wasn’t nurtured when we were younger—and that’s not a criticism.” Perry enjoys watching the students at St. Clement’s discover their voices, and she aims to foster an environment where their voices can not only be nurtured but where students understand that their voices and convictions are important.
Perry encourages students to use their voices to challenge even her. “We’ve had girls come to us and push ideas about the uniform and question the choices we have for our uniform, particularly around the idea of identity and supporting our students.” Perry encourages discussion as a mutual learning opportunity. “Be it the students teaching us or us teaching the students or facilitating a conversation, that allows everyone to grow.” Perry acknowledges that as a graduate of the school, she brings the lens of an alum, which may be biased at times to the traditions at St. Clement’s, and she asks students and staff to challenge her. “We talk about our girls’ learning. Our girls foster learning in us, too.”
One of the many things that has changed for Perry since her time at St. Clement’s is the idea of academic rigour. “I think in the past it used to be really felt that a rigorous education was one where there were five hours of homework every night. … For us, the challenge for our girls is that they’re gaining those competencies to be able to really access and blossom in terms of their own individual and independent thinking. … It will always be a challenging educational experience for them. But it’s challenging to enhance their capacity to be able to learn, period, regardless of where they are.”
Perry is a prime example of the benefits of providing learning opportunities across a variety of disciplines. She credits her experience in team sports and as a coach in making her the leader she is today. “For me there’s such an importance for teamwork and understanding when you build a team. You’re asking them to work together to accomplish a goal but you’re not asking them to all be the same. A team is comprised of a variety of different positions and different skills and different capacities. The goal is to lead different and diverse people in achieving a common goal.”
While St. Clement’s School has competitive team sports, Perry’s perspective on the purpose of school sports has been shaped both by her experience as an athlete and coach and as a principal. “It was key to us that athletics are about maximum participation—getting as many people involved as possible and, secondarily, skill development—our goal is not win at all costs and cut throat and people being on the team but riding the bench. It’s about people being engaged and contributing to a common goal.”