Our Lady of Lourdes School’s new principal, Kathleen Cotilletta, firmly believes in the marigold effect — a concept used in gardening in which certain vegetables and plants are placed near each other to improve growth. Marigolds are a popular companion plant that protects other plants against pests.
The idea can also be applied to school settings, in which individuals who encourage, support and nurture staff members are referred to as “marigolds.”
“It’s something that pertains to a lot of first-year teachers,” said Cotilletta, 53. “Since this is my first year as a principal, this fits for me.”
The day that Cotilletta stops learning, she added, is the day she will retire. She started her new job at OLL in August. She earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education at St. John’s University in 1988, a master’s in education at Molloy College in 2007 and her administrative degree at St. John’s in 2016.
Cotilletta was a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher at St. Brigid/Our Lady of Hope Regional School in Westbury from 1988 to 1991. She then taught at St. Joseph Catholic School in Marietta, Ga., from 1992 to 1997. She spent the past 21 years as a teacher at St. Peter of Alcantara School in Port Washington. Cotilletta, who also lived in Port Washington, moved to Malverne shortly before she started at OLL.
“Between my son getting married, moving to this wonderful community and starting my first administrative role,” she said, “it’s been an eventful yet exciting summer.”
While she loved being in a classroom, Cotilletta said, she believed it was time for change. Becoming a principal, she said, gave her the opportunity to visit several classrooms while satisfying her passion of leading as a Catholic educator.
“She felt like her calling was OLL,” said Barbara Bergin, the assistant principal and director of Little Learners at St. Peter of Alcantara.
Bergin knows Cotilletta as a parent — her four children were in Cotilletta’s classes — as well as a colleague. Bergin said that Cotilletta’s bubbly personality and work ethic would be well received by parents, children and faculty members at OLL.
“She was the first person at school every day,” Bergin recalled. “She is a person that is literally singing at the beginning and end of the day. Her door is always open, she listens to suggestions, and she’s always willing to change and update.”
Cotilletta helped start several programs and initiatives at St. Peter of Alcantara, and last year she started the junior National Honor Society for seventh- and eighth-grade students. And little more than a month into her tenure at OLL, she has already implemented new initiatives. She helped launch a weekly newsletter called Life at Lourdes to keep parents and teachers informed. At the top of each assignment paper, she requires students to write JMJ, which stands for Jesus, Mary and Joseph. “Our Catholic identity is so important to us,” she said. “It’s important to have that as a constant reminder for our students.”
The Rev. Michael Duffy, of OLL, said the school organized a committee comprising himself, parents and educators to interview several candidates for the position. But Cotilletta was “light years” above them all.
“That’s been visible from Day One,” Duffy said. “She’s a bundle of energy that’s on fire with love of the Lord, and she just has a great sense of educational knowledge to work with the teachers and students in a collaborative way. She’s the captain of the ship.”
After spending more than two decades at St Peter of Alcantara, Cotilletta said that familiarizing herself with OLL’s school community is her top priority. She also said she has hit it off with Duffy, and that they hope to work closely on programs at the school.
“She’s the kind of person that’s willing to gather people in the school community to get involved,” Duffy said. “It’s been a joy to work with her, and we’re looking forward to having her as the leader of our school for years to come.”
Cotilletta said she wanted to plant seeds that would promote growth for both the staff and students. “I want to cultivate a garden of marigolds,” she said. “I’m hoping that over time, the relationships we develop can allow teachers and students to have marigold moments.
“Sometimes we take these roads, but we’re not quite sure where we’ll end up,” Cotilletta continued. “But I’m so thankful that my journey led me to Our Lady of Lourdes.”