Story by Lois Rogers | Correspondent
As she begins her tenure as principal of Lawrenceville’s Notre Dame High School, Joanna Barlow is standing on familiar ground.
Not only has she served as assistant principal for curriculum and instruction there for seven years, but she brings with her an affinity for Catholic education that, as she put it, “runs deep.”
Growing up in Manasquan with two brothers and sister, Barlow said her own experience in St. Rose High School was a key factor in “helping me to find my passion and led to my vocation of serving in Catholic education.” Indeed, she credits her senior English teacher for her turn toward education.
“I became an educator in large part due to Sister of St. Joseph Anna Marie Mack,” she said. “Sister believed in me, encouraged me, and made me feel like the smartest student in the room.” The ultimate result she said, is that she grew to “love learning from and working with teenagers and ... I want to make a difference in teenagers’ lives.”
Barlow, who has been married for 21 years to husband, Eric, is the mother of two teens: Claire, 18, a recent Notre Dame graduate just beginning her freshman year in the University of Maryland, and Owen, 14, an incoming freshman at Notre Dame.
As an educator and parent, she believes that can best be accomplished in a Catholic school. “We educate the mind, body and spirit of our students,” she said. “The academic rigor, opportunity for Christian service and co-curricular activities are top notch. Receiving a Catholic education gives the student the whole package.”
Helping young people make the most of that package is her main goal as principal. “Notre Dame just celebrated its 60th anniversary,” she said. “It’s a school steeped in tradition and its reputation is second to none. My approach, as I enter my first year as principal, will be to honor tradition while at the same time, embracing the future.”
Barlow, who earned a master’s degree in education in administration and supervision in 2004 from Seton Hall University, South Orange, and a bachelor’s degree in literature from Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, Pomona, has a wide range of experience in her field that will lend itself to those goals. Her prior experience includes nine years as an English teacher for the Freehold Township Regional School System, several years as chair of the English Department in Piscataway High School, and three years as a supervisor and observer of student teachers of all grade levels in Georgian Court University, Lakewood.
During her varied career, she found that shared decision making, good communication, goal setting and reflection are all qualities that work into the long range plans, she said. “In my welcome back letter to faculty, I wrote about how change is sometimes unnerving. I promised the faculty that ‘I would listen and together through communication,” the community will see “change as hope, opportunity and growth.”
Her own Notre Dame experience has been invaluable, she said, in helping her gain the necessary experience to make the shift to principal.
“Throughout my career, I’ve been very lucky to have been mentored by some extremely talented Catholic educators,” she said. “They encouraged me to step up to the challenge of principal. Notre Dame has become my family, and I am truly blessed to be their principal.”
A member of the newly merged Parish of St. Isidore the Farmer, Barlow and her family attend the Church of the Assumption in Wrightstown, one of two worship sites, the other being the Church of St. Andrew in New Egypt. “When our children were younger, I served as a summer religious education teacher,” she said.
She sees the gift of faith and the “ability to bring God and spirituality into the classroom” as the key component to Catholic education. It allows, she said, “for a deeper understanding of the world and produces talented, intelligent and compassionate adults.”