MOUNT PLEASANT — As Sister Stella Maris Craven celebrates her 26th year as principal of Christ Our King-Stella Maris School, she is proud of how far the school has come over the past two decades.
When Sister Craven first came to the school in 1980, there were 300 students enrolled and the school building dated to the 1950s. Over the years the enrollment has increased to nearly 700, and she has overseen a complete rebuilding project.
Sister Craven’s first project when she came to the school was to have central air conditioning installed.
“It was just unbearable for the teachers and the students,” she said. “The next big project came after Hurricane Hugo in 1989 — we were wading through water in the hallways and classrooms. Part of the roof was gone, so it was the perfect time to use our insurance claim money and have a capital campaign to renovate.”
During the renovation Sister Craven felt that it was important to increase the number of students that the then-small school could accommodate. Three classrooms per grade level were added to make that possible for the pre-kindergarten through eighth grade school.
Today the school stands out in the community for its excellence in both academics and religion.
“In this area parents are truly making a choice when they put their children here,” said Sister Craven. “The schools in this area are so good that parents aren’t just running away from the poor public schools like in some communities. This is why we make an effort to provide Catholic values and high academics. We stress Catholic values and faith. We also encourage middle school teachers to open each class in prayer.”
Sister Craven said that the challenges of overseeing a school have increased over the years because of the shift in the home lives of children today.
“I would almost say that children are better today than they used to be, but what we wrestle with now are the outside influences that they are fighting against,” she said. “We are always helping children overcome things in their home lives. When I first started it was rare to have a child in a single parent home. That has become very common and we must help them overcome the obstacles that come along with that.”
She said that the rewards of her position are in knowing that she has a part in the academic and faith education of thousands of children.
“Knowing that I am investing in their future is the greatest reward and challenge of this job,” said Sister Craven. “I also like being able to know that I am providing a school with good, dedicated teachers.”
And the teachers are doing their part to educate the children. Each year the eighth- graders are given the PSAT test — the same test taken by high school juniors. Those who score at a high level are named Bishop England Scholars.
“This year we had 16 of our eighth graders who received this recognition,” said Sister Craven. “That is a very high percentage and we are very proud of the academic excellence of our students.”