McKinley Elementary School Principal Justin Marxman admits that attending Illinois State University in Normal provided a bit of culture shock. He describes it as an ‘eye opener.’ While he’d graduated from Effingham High School, he considers Effingham a rural community and grew up in a small village outside the city’s limits. While Justin always loved music, he also enjoyed helping on his grandfather’s farm. He leaned into his family’s and community’s support. Upon graduating college with a music education degree, it’s not surprising that a drive through Ottawa, and its small-town feel, spoke to him.
“Even going to my interview, I had this sense from driving through the middle of Ottawa; I felt the sense of community,” shares Justin. He adds that Ottawa has a “family-type feel. It’s close-knit, if you will. That’s what I’ve noticed and was intrigued by as an outsider coming in. That’s what I see, not only of the district but the community. It’s a very tight-knit and family-oriented community, which I greatly appreciate.”
Despite having a population of over eighteen-thousand residents, Ottawa felt like home to Justin, who quickly accepted a position as band director. He served as the band director for six years. He understood the storied history of Ottawa’s music programming, and used it as motivation. While he admits to placing pressure on himself, he also suggests that the legacy he inherited was also a gift.
“Band, music, and fine arts are enormous in the Ottawa community. I was blessed to have that as my intro to education if you will. I put pressure on myself to not only maintain the quality that Ottawa had but also try to take it to the next level. The community and the administration have been and still are extremely supportive of fine arts in Ottawa, which is very telling as to their success,” shares Justin, the pride evident in his voice.
While Justin went to school chasing his passion for music, he also fell in love with education. Justin has tried to learn from and emulate the teachers that impacted him, first as a band director and now as the principal at McKinley. He shares that while his high school band director was an inspiration, he also took influence from his high school rhetoric teacher, who could gain his student’s respect and admiration without asking, simply by how he carried himself.
The 2022-23 school year marks Justin’s second year as an administrator, a responsibility he doesn’t take lightly. Justin and his staff’s philosophy is to meet the students where they are with an equal focus on their academic and social development, taking a long-term approach to building young men and women who are adequately prepared for the next chapter of their lives rather than simply educating them.
“Sometimes I wake up and remind myself that my team and I are responsible for ensuring countless students are prepared for their next school and life in general. Even though you might not see the effects of your teaching, I immediately hear of students returning when they’re older. They tell you your enormous impact on them, even at that young age.”
Justin understands that sometimes it takes years for a great product to unveil itself and that the children under his care will continue to grow for years to come. He strives to ensure the support and education his staff passes on provide the foundation for future growth. An eighteen-month-old child at home and a second child due before this issue delivers only adds to Justin’s enthusiasm and resolve. One day his children will likely walk the same hallways where he shares his passion. And, as Justin shares, “It’s our job to ensure their success.