By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published August 6, 2021
ATLANTA—Melissa Lowry started at Christ the King School as a teacher’s assistant.
Others thought she might be overqualified with her background as a former principal, she said. But Lowry relished working closely with students again.
Shaping these youngsters for their future draws her to the work.
“I just can’t I can’t picture myself doing anything else,” she said.
Her 20 years of Catholic education experience includes classroom time and in administration as curriculum coordinator and undertaking other responsibilities.
Lowry, 49, was named the principal at the Buckhead school in March. It is her second time leading a school. She served as principal at a parochial elementary school in her native California. The Lowry family worships at the Cathedral of Christ the King. One of her two children graduated from the school while the other is still a student.
She spoke in her office, decorated with colorful handwritten cards and a statue of a teacher embracing students given as a gift from former school staff.
What led you to a career as a Catholic educator?
I was working in advertising and marketing in San Francisco and I was about 24, 25, going up the ladder and I got laid off from the advertising agency I was at. I went to church and I prayed, “I don’t think this is what I want to do but I don’t know what I want to do.” I woke up the next morning with a crystal clear picture, ‘You need to be a teacher.’ That was 1997, and I taught kindergarten in a private school for a year and then I knew that private school really just wasn’t for me. My godmother was an assistant principal at Holy Family School in Orange, California, and they had a first grade teacher opening, and I applied and got that job. And I’ve never left Catholic education since.
It just was part of divine intervention and part knowing in my heart that I wanted to be in a profession where I can make a difference and I never looked back.
What was your experience at school growing up, and how does that affect your vision for Christ the King School?
I went to St. Cecilia School, in Tustin, California, in Orange County, first grade to eighth grade. Having gone to Catholic school for such a long time, returning for graduate school and being in that Jesuit tradition at Loyola Marymount University, I realized Catholic education is not just a building where someone goes to learn math and writing and reading. It’s a place where you go to form who you are as a person. And that’s very unique.
That to me is Catholic education. We collectively are working toward a goal that’s bigger than ourselves and that is for us to leave the world a better place than it was when we got here and for us to raise the next generation of Catholics.
The pandemic caused a very difficult school year, but were there silver linings you gained from that experience?
I think a lot of people learned a lot about empathy and compassion.
I live right here and the duck pond was crazy busy, so I think a silver lining was that people were able to slow down a little bit, and spend more time together as a family.
I think in the world of education, people came to appreciate teachers a lot more, which was nice for teachers to feel. I think our teachers felt a lot of stress and pressure but they also felt very appreciated by our parent volunteer association who did things, treats and stuff all year.
People are more appreciative, they’re more compassionate, they’re more empathetic, they’re more understanding of people, more patient, perhaps. And I think that’s a good thing for everybody.
To your experience in the classroom, was there a favorite lesson that you like to teach and where did that idea come from?
My favorite is I used to read “Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life…And Maybe the World,” with all of my students and it’s by Admiral William H. McRaven. I read it and it was life changing for me, and I thought there’s something here that my middle school students could really hang on to.
The first thing in the book is to make your bed because if everything else in your life goes bad that day, you will have made your bed, you will have done something, you will have accomplished something. The whole book kind of talks about how to live your character-filled life from the perspective of a Navy SEAL.
I never tied a formal assignment to it like a paper because that wasn’t the purpose. The purpose was for them to learn something from the material that they could apply to their daily lives.
The best is when the kids come back afterward and I still have this one student who I see once in while she’s like, “I’m still making my bed every morning.”