Though she is in her first year here, the principal of St. John the Apostle Catholic School is no stranger to its halls.
“On several occasions I was as here at St. John’s for the past two years assisting the interim principal,” Miriam Cotton said during a recent visit to the school on Sandbridge Road. “I’ve had familiarity with St. John’s teachers, parents and students for the past two years.”
Cotton began as principle at the Catholic school in July of this year. During St. John the Apostle’s two year search for a permanent principal, Cotton assisted in the interim with integrating technology into classrooms and advising on curriculum issues.
Originally from Pennsylvania, she was raised outside Philadelphia and attended school there through college. She attended Immaculata University, as well as Rowan University.
Cotton previously served as assistant superintendent for the Catholic Diocese of Richmond.
“I had a lot of experiences working on diocese committees and being a part of the bigger picture of where we want Catholic schools to go,” Cotton said.
She emphasizes making classrooms more adaptable to student of a technological generation.
“We want to transform our classroom to implement 21st century skills,” she said. “It’s a paradigm shift from traditional teaching to more student-centered and student engagement. Some of those skills are high critical thinking, collaboration or creativity and in order for our children to be competent and competitive in the twenty-first century workplace.”
One of the initiatives that Cotton has implemented is the incorporation of more technology into the school’s resources. Every student in fifth through eighth grades now has their own Google Chromebook to assist with classroom instruction.
“It’s just how they learn,” Cotton said. “They’re used to getting information instantly and it just makes learning more relevant for them.”
Over the summer the school’s building became completely Wi-Fi accessible to accompany the addition of the Chromebooks.
Cotton said her previous positions helped her to become a qualified principal for St. John the Apostle. She was a teacher and, later, principal of St. Gregory the Great Catholic School in Virginia Beach, a school of 550 students at the time of her employment, which has now risen to over 700, according to an executive summary by the diocese.
Before being asked to join the Catholic Diocese of Richmond, she was principal of Christ the King Catholic School in Norfolk from 2000 to 2008.
According to Cotton, educators at St. John the Apostle strive to teach students to be peacemakers in life. They are taught to be respectful and reverent in what they do and say.
“St. Johns is unique in the sense that we offer not just a quality Catholic education but we also integrate and infuse Catholic and Christ-centered values in all that we do,” Cotton said. “When anyone walks through the doors of St. John’s, they experience not just an educational institute, but one that is filled with faith.”
Cotton taught for close to fifteen years before moving into administration.
“Being a classroom teacher was beneficial,” she said. “You understand the impact that teachers have in the lives of children. You also understand the demands that the classroom teacher has. Not only are you imparting knowledge, but you’re also a confidante and teaching them self-esteem and how they learn. It’s not so much how smart a child is, but how is that child smart.”
Cotton says she feels it is important for administrators to convey to teachers that they are appreciated.
St. John the Apostle’s grade levels range from three year preschool, called “Little Rays,” to eighth grade. The school has 338 students with class sizes of about 20 students. Cotton said class size is one aspect that helps with teacher and student interaction.