Lark P. Palma, Ph.D., has been head of school since 1995. She is a native South Carolinian and a graduate of an independent school in South Carolina. Lark earned a doctorate in twentieth-century British literature and women’s studies at the University of South Carolina while teaching at Heathwood Hall Episcopal School. Her passion is in providing an exceptional learning environment by encouraging personal and academic connections between students and teachers.
As head of school Lark has overseen enormous advancements in curriculum, fundraising, improved facilities, and increased student population. Lark inspires others to join her vision for this vital school that adapts to changing times while staying true to its mission.
Lark strengthened Catlin Gabel’s curriculum, masterminding a curriculum map—now used as a national model—coordinating what is taught from preschool through high school. With this tool, students have a seamless learning experience. Global education and cultural awareness ignited under her tenure, and she inspires unique activities such as a humanitarian mission to Cuba that garnered national recognition.
Innovation in professional practices is key to Lark’s vision. With the help of a generous professional development fund, Lark makes it possible for teachers to keep educating themselves—including the latest developments in brain research related to learning. She encourages teachers to adapt findings in their classrooms, so Catlin Gabel can customize teaching for each student’s learning style. Lark consistently hires the “first choice” employees, because our competitive salaries, not necessarily the highest, are bolstered by the community and values she’s fostered.
Lark has overseen two capital campaigns and countless initiatives that contributed $36.8 million to the school. The current campaign emphasizes endowment for financial aid and programs, a rare undertaking for a school of this type. Under her leadership the school built a world-class track and field, a Beginning School facility, and for Upper School a library and buildings for math, science, modern languages, and humanities. An arts complex is in the fundraising stage.
Visibility and relationships within our wider community have improved. Lark founded a partnership with Black United Fund, reaching out to untapped students. An articulate advocate for education, she shares her expertise on statewide boards. Believing that community service is integral to a first-rate education, Lark’s outreach enhances awareness about Catlin Gabel through the many places our students volunteer—and make a difference.
Lark has developed a national voice for better educational practices. Writing for national magazines and Portland’s press, her communications work emphasizes transparency and story-telling. She leads accreditation teams and has served on the PNAIS executive committee. Many former employees are now school heads or administrative leaders, thanks to her mentoring.
Although Catlin Gabel is a small independent school, Lark Palma has earned the stature in our region equivalent to a leader in higher education. Lark is a positive, effective school head who inspires with exuberance and courage.