10 things you didn’t know about Michael J. Martirano, interim superintendent of Howard County schools

For The Baltimore Sun

Michael J. Martirano, 58, is a Frostburg native who lived in Howard County for 20 years and served from 2001 to 2004 as the county’s director of elementary schools and then as director of school administration for a year. He was named to his current position as the Howard County Public Schools interim superintendent in June after having served as Saint Mary’s County Public Schools superintendent and West Virginia state superintendent.

He shared some interesting facts about his life, such as his highly viewed YouTube video, signature look and knack for planking.

1. He has a vast collection of school bus-themed mementos.

Martirano recently pared down his unwieldy 368-item display of miniatures and more to fewer than 70, displaying the surviving gifts on bookshelves in his office at the Board of Education. He long ago shared his enthusiasm for buses as “a symbol for kids coming to school to learn,” and was soon inundated with them.

2. He’s proud that his kids are “good, solid people.”

Maria, an Atholton High School graduate, is a lawyer; Vincent, who attended Clemens Crossing Elementary and Lime Kiln Middle schools, teaches high school government and politics in Anne Arundel County; and Gina, who also went to Clemens Crossing, is in her last year of nursing school. Beyond their career success, he’s gratified that “they’re well-adjusted and humble, and like taking care of others.”

3. He bikes regularly.

He owns a Trek road bike and takes it out every weekend. He’s also taken part in the Seagull Century, a 100-mile ride in Salisbury each October that benefits Salisbury University.

4. He can plank.

Martirano decided after seeing online that if Cher and Ruth Bader Ginsburg can hold a plank — a core-building position that resembles a pushup — then so could he. He managed in three weeks to go from feeling his entire body shake as he lifted himself up on his hands and toes to steadily holding a plank for five minutes.

5. Colorful, patterned socks are a signature look.

As he sat on the floor at Manor Woods Elementary School on his first day as interim superintendent to read “The Rainbow Fish,” students got a good look at his wild hosiery, which he pairs with a suit and tie. “The kids love it,” he says. The downfall: He now owns a closetful.

6. He taught himself to play guitar.

Five years ago, he decided to take up an instrument and chose a six-string acoustic guitar. He doesn’t favor any one genre, but enjoys performing the songs of Simon and Garfunkel and Joni Mitchell. His paternal grandfather was a coal miner from Italy who played the mandolin and violin, so he says he comes by the talent naturally.

7. John Travolta’s got nothing on him.

Posted on YouTube under “Greatest Father/Daughter Wedding Dance Medley,” Martirano and older daughter Maria perform an animated choreographed routine with a twist at her wedding reception in May 2016. “There was lots of hooting and hollering,” he recalls. The video has nearly a million views.

8. He bristles at discrimination.

He remembers Italian relatives on his father’s side telling stories of discriminatory treatment.

Derogatory memes and Mafia-themed movies offend him, and the issue of increased deportations in the U.S. “resonates with me,” he says. He appreciates the value Howard County residents place on diversity, which “isn’t just tolerated here, but welcomed and accepted.”

9. Hit by tragedy, he’s “blessed with a positive spirit.”

Martirano’s mother died of cancer when he was just 10 years old. Though his father quickly remarried, his stepmother wasn’t the best fit, and he and his sister ended up in foster care until their godfather took them in. “I was a child at risk, but I decided I would never allow that to defeat me,” he says.

Then, on May 30, 2016, his wife of 32 years, Silvana, took her life after battling depression. He returned to Maryland to be closer to his children and is writing a book about his experiences to help others.

10. Cooking is part of his heritage.

While he labels himself “a recipe follower,” he still holds his own in preparing Italian dishes, especially pasta. Red sauce from scratch and “wicked good meatballs” are his specialties.

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