Cabrillo principal retires after 31 years in district, offers scholarship


Upon retiring, Principal Pat Cairns sets up scholarship fund for elementary and high school students.

By Ryan O’Quinn/Special to The Malibu Times

For more than 30 years, one Malibuite has been positively affecting the youth of this city. When asking colleagues, parents and alumni about Juan Cabrillo Elementary School’s retiring principal, Pat Cairns, several words easily came to mind: leader, friend, professional, giver, classy.

Sunday’s Fiesta Cabrillo took place on the campus of Juan Cabrillo, and scores of locals turned up for the outdoor fair to enjoy the games and the sunshine and to honor Cairns. The event doubled as her retirement party and was bittersweet for most in attendance.

“We will miss her dearly,” said teacher Laura Epstein. “She has been an amazing support system.”

“Not only is she a great principal and leader, she’s a great friend,” Susan Young said. “The reason you see such an amazing group of people here supporting this school is because of Pat.”

Cairns came to Malibu in 1973 where she was assistant principal and has served as principal of the Juan Cabrillo for the last six years. The former Malibu Times Dolphin Award winner and nominee for California Teacher of the Year said she will miss her role as educator, but is looking forward to retirement.

“I’ve had a lot of good luck in my career,” Cairns said. “I’ve worked hard for that luck and I encourage the next principal to work hard for his luck, too.”

The legacy of her involvement in educating the children of Malibu will continue after her retirement. Cairns announced she was establishing the Pat Cairns Dolphin Scholarship to be awarded annually to a Malibu High School senior who is a former Cabrillo student.

“My whole life has been about these two schools and education,” Cairns said. “Sometimes they dedicate buildings or name something, but I want to do something for kids and I can’t think of anything better. The most important thing a teacher can do is to have education continue.”

Cairns encouraged the Malibu community to donate to the scholarship fund to be used for continuing education. Contributions are currently being accepted by the Juan Cabrillo PTA.

The scholarship will be in addition to another scholarship the Cairns family awards each year. The Cairns Family Scholarship is given to a Malibu High School graduate and is named for Cairns, her husband, John, who worked at the high school and middle school, and their daughter, Cristin, a teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

“We have extremely high expectations and a tremendous belief everyone can be successful,” Cairns said. “If you have a personal set of core values and are extremely hard working, you’ll be successful.”

The superintendent of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District also honored Cairns. “These children have been blessed by you. ‘No child left behind’ is very much alive at this school because of you,” said Superintendent John Deasy. “I want to thank you for your leadership.”

“It’s an amazing school and the teachers are fabulous and gifted,” Cairns said. “How can you go wrong where everyone around you makes you look good? I am very lucky.”

Cairns has been offered various positions at universities and private schools, but says she is keeping her options open. Her first priority after retirement will be a family vacation, but says she will always come back to prune the roses around the school and vows to stay in touch with her colleagues and the children.

School Librarian Vicki Chapman said of Cairns, “She binds us all together with professionalism, class and courtesy.”