‘My Roots Are Here’: Past teacher Mary Skeen becomes principal of All Hallows Academy in La Jolla

When All Hallows Academy’s new principal, Mary Skeen, says she has history at the Catholic school, she is not kidding. The La Jolla native’s parents were part of the founding group for the All Hallows Parish, and she was baptized there. Her children, Megan and Patrick, went to school there (before going to La Jolla High School), as did her husband, Mark. She taught at the school in a few different classrooms for 15 years before becoming vice-principal five years ago.

Now, after a nation-wide search, Skeen has been appointed principal to succeed the retiring Jill Platt. Skeen will lead the 230-student (TK through eighth-grade) school located at 2390 Nautilus St.

“To me, this place is an extension of my home,” she said. “This place is a part of who I am as a person. I’ve seen that the school is going in such an upward swing, in terms of academic rigor, and I wanted to be part of that. I have an opportunity to bring more families into the school (because) this is a very community-related environment, and understanding the community here helps me understand the needs of parents and families.”

Skeen got her teaching degree from the University of Southern California and is currently completing a teacher leader certificate from University of San Diego. Her first job was at St. Didacus in Normal Heights. After a brief hiatus to raise her children, she returned to teaching. With what little free time she has, Skeen said she likes to go to the beach and work in her garden.

“I started teaching because of my passion for it. I love it,” she said. She spent time in three different classrooms before moving to the vice-principal’s office. Of her new role, she explained, “The principal is more (a job of) carrying on the mission of the school versus its day-to-day management, implementing programs and looking at where we are going as a school and as a diocese. Keeping us in a forward direction is very important to me and a demand from this community, so my job is to see that grow more and more.”

Skeen said her philosophy as principal will be to create and continue to create the environment of a Catholic education that supports students spiritually and emotionally, while challenging them academically, so they are prepared to enter whatever high school they choose.

But at the forefront, are Catholic principles.

“Faith Development is primary here, it takes precedence over anything in that we have it as a subject every day and it’s infused in all our subject areas,” she said. “We go to Mass every week. Our religious philosophy and our Character Development, in terms of our 10 Virtues, is very important. You find those virtues in a lot of different faiths, and those are the pieces we help children develop in terms of good character — being a good citizen in any community,” she said. The 10 Virtues are: Christian Witness, Compassion, Responsibility, Respect, Tolerance, Self-Discipline, Courage, Leadership, Cooperation and Honesty.

“In today’s society, children need to have a Richter scale that goes beyond whether something is illegal or legal. It goes deeper than that. It’s whether something (you face) is the right thing to do, and we take that a step further. It’s not just about the rules, it’s about what you are creating for yourself, what kind of person you really want to be, and what difference you want to make in the world. We look at those things very closely.”

The All Hallows teaching staff is able to support that, Skeen said, because they are able talk about their personal beliefs in a way that could not be done in a public school, particularly the power of prayer.

“A typical day here includes three or four prayer times, either as a group, led by the teachers or silently. We focus on gratitude … for what we are blessed with. The children here are fortunate in many ways and at the same time, they have the needs of any child: they need to be loved, nurtured, challenged, and emotionally and spiritually supported.”

Ready for the task, Skeen said she is “thrilled and excited” for the new school year to begin on Aug. 23. “I’m enthusiastically looking forward to the challenges ahead and optimistic about the future of the school. This is an amazing place to be — for children and for me.”

All Hallows Academy: (858) 459-6074. allhallowsacademy.com

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