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Cabrillo Middle School Principal Lorelle Dawes prioritizes social-emotional learning and the “Blue Heart Project” to promote kindness and empathy.
Dawes nurtures middle school students
July 25, 2022
ACSA Administrators of the Year graphic.
Name: Lorelle Dawes Award: Middle Grades Principal of the Year Title: Principal, Cabrillo Middle School, Ventura USD ACSA highlights: Member since 2004; North Ventura Charter President (2020-present), Vice President (2018-2020).
Middle school can be a difficult period in a student’s life ­— sometimes awkward, often challenging, full of dynamic growth and new interests and opportunities. To successfully lead the team supporting students through this time takes compassion and creativity, and the ability to strategically address needs as they arise.
Lorelle Dawes has served as principal of Cabrillo Middle School in Ventura USD since 2014. She brings perspective and a balanced approach to her leadership, and works to address the diverse needs of every student, from building a new place to play to expanding CTE and ESL offerings. Dawes constantly strives to nurture students to grow emotionally, socially and academically.
Dawes is continually learning and creating improvement opportunities for students and staff. She supports innovations such as a new robotics team, sports teams and CTE programs designed to engage students. Her other achievements include advancing the volunteer program, installing a play structure to keep sixth graders active during lunch, and revising the master schedule so students who need intervention get access to electives by taking zero period PE. This scheduling adjustment helped 13 students the first year and over 70 as of 2022.
To counter declining enrollment, she worked with electives teachers to develop the Cabrillo Arts & Engineering Academy. Launched in 2021, the academy has drawn new students to award-winning courses in music, the arts, woodworking and design, and digital media production.
As a new administrator, Dawes implemented SMART Boards and, seeing a disparity in skill levels, encouraged her teachers’ individualized professional growth in technology, allowing a swift transition to digital learning during the pandemic closures. She continually works to advocate for equitable grading solutions and restorative practices, prioritizes social-emotional learning and the “Blue Heart Project” to promote kindness and empathy, and champions multilingualism.
Dawes is deeply involved in her local ACSA region and charter. She encourages new and aspiring administrators both as a mentor and as an instructor in the California Lutheran University Graduate School of Education.
What’s your favorite quote on leadership? I like Brené Brown’s idea of “Clear is kind.”
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given? Hire the person with the best character traits for the job. You can teach them the skills.
What’s your best strategy for work/life balance? Huh? What’s that? Just kidding. I find one key is to manage expectations with colleagues and family members. If I’m going to be at a school event on Saturday, it’s best to let family know as early as possible, then really be there for them on Sunday.
What are some life hacks that you would recommend for a new administrator? Keep some small gifts and thank you notes in your desk drawer. You never know when you will need to express some gratitude for some unexpected kindness.
What would people be surprised to learn about you? For a year, I held a job (as a volunteer) where my job description was “to be.” I was living in northern Thailand with teenage girls from several different tribes. Many of them had been trafficked in the sex industry or were at high risk for that, so they benefited from someone who would “be” with them. It was hard for me not to “teach” or “build” or otherwise “do,” but one afternoon under a mango tree, I figured out how to be, and we were all better off for it. I think every teenager can benefit from having an adult who is just there for them.
What made you want to become a school administrator? I saw what a positive difference an effective school leader could make, and I noticed how even a mediocre administrator could have a negative impact, so I wanted to make a broad, positive impact.

How has ACSA supported you in your career/current position? ACSA has supported me in a myriad of ways throughout my career. It began with networking, then I began to appreciate the professional learning. Now, I am most grateful for the support ACSA has provided as we adapted through the pandemic and beyond. Oh, and the Personnel Academy was great!
What new strategies are you using to ensure student success in the post-“return to school” period? I am encouraging teachers to infuse extra social-emotional learning, whether that comes organically to them or they need a more scripted approach, so students will develop the life skills to navigate this world that is ever changing and often difficult. Me personally … I am approaching everything with an attitude of “light.” I’m trying to bring joy, fun and positivity to working and learning.
2022 Middle Grades Principal of the Year and Cabrillo Middle School Principal Lorelle Dawes..
2022 Middle Grades Principal of the Year and Cabrillo Middle School Principal Lorelle Dawes..