Rose Bowman, principal of Center and Old Hammondtown schools, has been helping children achieve their full potential for a very long time. For decades Bowman has either directly worked with children or assisted classroom teachers, and it has never gotten old, it has felt fresh and thoroughly rewarding. Just ask her and the first thing that will happen is that she will smile and then she’ll share that being with the students, “… fills my heart with joy.”
On the occasion of her recent announcement that she intends to retire in June, Bowman reflected on her long career in education. “I’ve been in education for 50 years,” she said chuckling, “and some of my former students have beaten me to retirement!”
She confessed to having mixed emotions about leaving a career that has brought her so much happiness and professional satisfaction, but she said, “it’s the right time, it’s time to let a new person come forward in a new way.”
Bowman graduated from Bridgewater State University in 1971 and earned a Master’s Degree in Education and Early Childhood Education in 1991. She also received a Certificate for Advanced Graduate Study in Educational Leadership in 1996. She was the principal of Old Hammondtown School from 1998 to 2008 and Center School from 2008 to 2014, later becoming coprincipal for both schools along with Kevin Tavares. Before coming to Mattapoisett, Bowman taught K-3 for more than nine years in New Bedford at the Hathaway Elementary School.
When asked how education has changed since she entered the field, Bowman said, “In 1971 it changed, our focus changed.” She said that, whereas early teaching methods were primarily by rote instruction with the teacher doing all the talking and the children merely listening, new concepts that allowed the student to more fully participate, exchanging ideas including creative problem solving, were being developed.
“We now support the whole child to achieve their best potential … teach them how to think,” Bowman said. “The world is always changing, we have to work together, the children need to learn how to be collaborative, and we want them to become lifelong learners.”
“There are new careers emerging all the time, children have to be able to work with other people, listen to input from others and share ideas.”
Bowman said that in her long career she has felt privileged to be part of hundreds of children’s lives. While she said she enjoyed being in the classroom, she believed her true calling was in administration where she would be able to impact the education of children and also work with teachers in an ever-changing landscape both inside the classrooms and in the world. Bowman said that some of her former students do stand out in her mind but said that all hold a place in her heart.
But what about the kids? What did the children see, how did they feel about “Mrs. Bowman?” We were able to catch up with one former student whose life was touched by his third-grade teacher.
Steve Pemberton wasn’t always known by that name. He was once a small boy coping with being a foster child and all that such an upbringing too often entails. But for Pemberton there was school and there was Mrs. Bowman, his third-grade teacher at Hathaway Elementary School.
“She was someone who was very caring, kind, patient and understanding. She always had a warm smile, and you got the feeling she was genuinely glad to see you,” recalls Pemberton, now an internationally respected motivational speaker and author. “I was in a very turbulent foster home, for my safety I couldn’t confide in anyone, but in class that was a different world. She helped me understand that there were still kind and caring people in the world.”
Pemberton said his love of reading was furthered in Bowman’s class and he added, “All children need to be affirmed, and she did that by celebrating my love of reading … it fueled my passion and to this day her encouragement remains one of my fondest memories.”
The two have reconnected in recent years when Pemberton was invited to speak to the students at Center School.
At first Bowman was hesitant to grant permission for a class to host Pemberton as a guest speaker. She said she didn’t know anything about him or how his talk could benefit the students, but after receiving a copy of one of his books, Bowman recognized the accomplished author as that little boy in New Bedford who had been in her class. She has since written a few words in the forward of one of Pemberton’s publications affirming, once again, his value.
“I often share the story of how I came to be reconnected to her later on in life because I wanted her to know and anyone who teaches young children that their work and their impact is immeasurable,” said Pemberton.
Ever cognizant of teachers’ daily impact on the lives of children, Bowman still feels humbled when recognized in the larger community. “There is no greater compliment then when someone stops to say hello – that means the world to me,” she said.
“I can’t tell you how many times I have heard from parents that ‘I live in Mattapoisett to make sure my children can go to school under Principal Bowman’s leadership’ or how many times parents have told me they moved to Mattapoisett specifically because of Principal Bowman’s reputation and the success of the schools that she had led for many, many years. These are the types of compliments all educational leaders hope to get,” said ORR Superintendent of Schools Mike Nelson. “Rose has truly been a staple in the Mattapoisett community for so many decades. Her leadership has allowed parents to know that their children are safe, cared about deeply, and learning at a very high level.”
Her administrative role took her out of the classroom but at the same time gave her the opportunity to work with staff and with families focusing on the student as a unique individual. “Being a principal is a most treasured position,” Bowman said. “This is what I was meant to do.”
“Principal Bowman’s leadership is rooted in listening to others, speaking the truth to those she serves and always anchoring her decision-making on what is best for children. She is quick to tell you that the success she has experienced is a credit to the amazing teachers and the staff members who are in the classrooms day-in and day-out,” said Nelson. “Hearing Principal Bowman’s voice greet our incoming students and families have been a rite of passage for many generations of Mattapoisett families, and we are going to miss her being in our schools very much. I am confident that the excellent educational experiences that Mattapoisett students have received under her watch will continue, knowing the exceptional culture she has built over her long and successful educational career at Center School and Old Hammondtown School.”
In true style, Bowman deflects credit to the ORR District administration, teachers and other administrators she has worked shoulder-to-shoulder with, saying of that experience, “I have never felt alone.”
The lessons that she has taught, the exchanges with so many little children over five decades have left footprints in many hearts as well as Bowman’s. But the biggest lesson she has learned from the children is this, “Celebrate the moment. Don’t worry about what happened before or what is ahead. Children celebrate the moment and the people they are with now – that’s the great lesson I’ve learned.”
“I’ve been so fortunate to share my life with thousands of children,” Bowman quietly concluded. “I’ve learned from them every day. I wouldn’t change a thing.”
By Marilou Newell