MARTINEZ -- A teacher, parent and principal at the center of a Mt. Diablo school district investigation into former Woodside Elementary teacher Joseph Martin took the stand in his molestation trial Monday.
Teacher Nina Pate, who retired last year, said she was pleased when she heard police were looking into allegations of creepy behavior by Martin. She said she had made several complaints to principals at the school about incidents that concerned her since she walked into his classroom and saw him with a former student behind a closet door with their shoes off one evening in 2003.
Pate testified that she became so concerned, she eventually gave Principal Jennifer Sachs, who was the principal in 2006 when the district conducted its investigation, a letter asking Martin to stay away from her and her students.
"Other teachers had come to me reporting things they had seen or heard or witnessed, and I sent them straight to the principal," Pate said. "There was talk, some scuttlebutt around campus."
But three parents, three former students, two of Martin's relatives and Sachs all took the stand and spoke highly of Martin, saying he was an enthusiastic teacher who kept students engaged by decorating his classroom and using drama, music and magical lighting to make learning fun.
Sachs read from a performance evaluation she had given Martin that praised his classroom displays and use of drama because they appealed to children's varied ways of learning. Sachs, former students and their parents also lauded Martin for his conflict resolution meetings, during which he encouraged students to apologize for bullying or let him know if he was bothering them.
Although students and parents acknowledged that Martin hugged both girls and boys, they said they did not see any inappropriate touching, such as inside of students' shirts. The students said that Martin told them in April 2013 that he had to leave suddenly to help someone who was sick, and he never returned. Later, they learned he had been placed on a leave of absence and arrested.
Martin, 46, of Martinez, has pleaded not guilty to 150 molestation counts involving 14 former male students at the Concord school.
Sachs will continue her testimony Tuesday morning, when other current and former Mt. Diablo school district officials may also testify.
Contact Theresa Harrington at 925-945-4764. Follow her at Twitter.com/tunedtotheresa.