The Principal’s Office: Meet Patricia Lowell. Principal of Stella Maris Academy keeps children in mind
• VIDEO: Watch part of the interview with Patricia Lowell, principal at Stella Maris Academy in La Jolla, by clicking on the image above, or go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JOTBs6UcdH8
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third of a 13-part series bringing you interviews with principals of the 13 schools in La Jolla every other week.
By Catherine Ivey Lee
Step into Principal Patricia Lowell’s office and it’s easy to see what the Catholic educator holds dear. A statue of the Virgin Mary is on display, a school award from the Department of Education hangs on one wall, and an amusing photo of students dressed as Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper” disciples hangs on another.
On Lowell’s desk sits a well-worn book of daily meditations for teachers, a gift from a student’s family she received not long after becoming a teacher at the K-8 school in La Jolla’s Village. Lowell has marked numerous pages over the years, but it’s the inscription she cherishes most: “Thank you, Mrs. Lowell, for instilling the love of learning in our daughter.”
It’s a message that the 63-year-old Lowell said reminds her that what teachers say and do really matters to children. “That’s really important to me,” the Stella Maris Academy principal said recently, “to make sure that we all are aware — administrators as well as teachers — of the impact that we have on our students.”
Born and raised in Chicago, Lowell became an elementary school teacher nearly four decades ago after studying education at Northeastern Illinois University. Though she briefly considered teaching high school English, Lowell fell in love with “the sweet little children” in lower grades who offered her hugs on a regular basis. “That’s my daily vitamin,” she said.
Lowell taught at public schools in Illinois and Kansas for more than a decade, but when she and her husband and their two daughters relocated to Southern California in 1992, there were no full-time job openings in the Poway Unified School District where she applied. Lowell answered an opening to teach first grade at Stella Maris, which is the parish school of Mary, Star of the Sea Catholic Church on Girard Avenue. Having attended Catholic elementary and high schools herself, Lowell appreciated the small school’s combination of strong academics, faith-based values, social curriculum and community service opportunities. By the time a teaching opportunity opened up in Poway the following year, “I had already fallen in love with Stella Maris,” she said.
That was 19 years ago. After teaching first grade for 12 years and simultaneously serving as the school’s vice principal, Lowell became principal in 2006.
On a typical day, Lowell rises at 4:30 a.m. She arrives at the office at 6:30 a.m. — with a Starbucks coffee cup in hand — to tackle her to-do list and to be available for teachers. “I want to make sure that I’m accessible,” she said. “There is nothing worse than someone who puts you off when there is something you want to talk over.” She holds meetings at 7:15 a.m. before greeting students at 8 a.m. She then leads students and teachers in a daily morning prayer over a school-wide intercom. For a campus that sits on two different street corners, “it’s a great way to have everyone come together,” Lowell said.
When asked to name the biggest challenge in education today, Lowell’s focus on children remains paramount: “Our biggest challenge is to make sure that we help struggling students reach the potential they can have in their learning,” she said.
Whereas once the school could simply not afford to meet the needs of special learners, Lowell said it is now reaching out to meet the needs of all students as part of an effort to broaden the appeal of a Catholic education to many and to ensure the school’s strong academic programs.
Working in what she calls a democratic and collaborative leadership style, Lowell gathered support to open a resource center two years ago and hired an educational specialist to assist students with special needs or those working below grade level.
Lowell also introduced LiPS, which teaches K-3rd grade students how to move their mouths to make sounds correctly, a program she credits with helping young readers to self-correct their reading and spelling. Another program, called D.I.B.L.E.S., is helping to identify reading problems early on, she said.
Other initiatives Lowell has instituted include offering a “transitional” kindergarten program this year to attract students too young for regular kindergarten but who would benefit from a full-day school program and working to make Stella Maris a welcome home for Spanish-speaking students. The school is also exploring expanding to include a preschool.
“I think we have become very, very successful in looking at how we can best address the needs of our students,” she said.
About Stella Maris Academy
• Address: 7654 Herschel Ave., La Jolla
• Type of school: Catholic
• Year established: 1947
• Number of students: 225
• Grade range: Transitional kindergarten to Grade 8
• School colors/mascot name: Blue and white; The Monarchs (a lion, not a butterfly)
• Tuition: $6,000 (plus registration fees) for parishioners of Mary, Star of the Sea Catholic Church; $7,000 for students from other parishes; $8,000 for non-parishioners
• Phone: (858) 454-2461
• Website: stellamarisacademy.org
• “The Principal’s Office” Archives, so far, for this ongoing series:
You can read profiles of principals from previous issues at:
- The Principal’s Office: Meet Alison Fleming. Powered by hugs, the head of La Jolla’s The Gillispie School strives to lead by example
- The Principal’s Office: Meet Jill Platt. Coffee, prayer and love of students fuels All Hallows Academy principal in La Jolla
- All Hallows Academy hosts Family Fun Night ‘on-the-range’ in La Jolla
- Taste of La Jolla raises $19,000 for La Jolla High School
- Mural No. 8 Arrives: La Jolla Community Foundation installs another public art piece
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