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Elsie Allen principal retires after 16 years

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As principal of Elsie Allen High School, Mary Gail Stablein focused on preparing students for careers and higher education, boosting on campus the number of college-prep courses, student support services and job training and scholarship opportunities.

But after 16 school years at the southwest Santa Rosa campus, Stablein is ready for a transition. She has retired as the second principal to serve the school since its inception in 1994.

Stablein, who joined the school in 2001, is being succeeded by Gabriel Albavera, a Windsor native and former Elsie Allen assistant principal and counselor.

“The energy on a high school campus is unique,” Stablein said in an interview Thursday. “It’s like running a little city — a lot can happen in a day. I’ll miss the stories kids share with you and helping to guide young people about decisions for their future.”

Stablein said Albavera is an excellent listener, an important quality in a principal.

“It’s so great and really heartening to me to hand off the reins to Gabe. I’m very pleased,” Stablein said.

It was listening to students, parents, faculty and community members in 2011 that led to the start of the Elsie Allen High School Foundation, a nonprofit that supports students by providing mentors, job shadows, career days and scholarships to college and trade schools. She worked closely with La Tortilla Factory co-founder Willie Tamayo to launch the foundation.

To date, the foundation has raised and distributed over $400,000 in scholarships and $100,000 in student services, including support for ACT and SAT test fees and college fees, Stablein said.

Tamayo first met Stablein at a meeting in the fall of 2010. He was impressed with her from the start, he said.

“She always has a warm smile and a sense of humor,” which Tamayo said is “so important” for a principal with 1,000-plus students and faculty.

“She was just intrinsically smart,” he said. “She knew what the students and staff are feeling. She was passionate about creating opportunities for each student to blossom.”

Stablein knew how to connect with community leaders as well as the working-class families of Latino students, Tamayo said. Many Elsie Allen students come from homes where both parents work and haven’t the time — or the education — to assist their children with homework.

Stablein stressed the need for scholarships for her students, even if they were “just a few hundred dollars” to attend Santa Rosa Junior College, Tamayo said.

Stablein also started several programs to prepare students for life after high school. The University Center program partners with Sonoma State University so students can take college preparatory classes. The program started in 2008, about a decade before the Santa Rosa school board voted this spring to require students, starting with next fall’s freshmen, to complete college-prep courses before graduating.

“We’ve been on the forefront of that,” Stablein said.

Other programs started during her tenure were the Certified Nursing Assistants program, the College and Career Center, the school farm and Link Crew, which helps freshman transition to high school. The school also launched Compact for Success, which introduces Cook Middle School students to high school and university settings and guarantees those who meet the program’s criteria a spot at SSU.

Stablein also expanded the agricultural building, the Southwest Community Health Center, culinary arts program, the art classroom and the football and soccer stadium. She also boosted student social services.

Stablein hired Albavera in 2002 as a bilingual counselor, and he ended up serving as the assistant principal from 2003 to 2012.

“To say this was my dream job when I started at Elsie Allen is an understatement,” said Albavera, who looked to Stablein as a mentor while working together. “What I’ve learned from her is to have passion for students.”

After he left Elsie Allen in 2012, Albavera worked at the school district office for two years, then as the principal of Ridgway High School for three years.

The son of Mexican immigrants, Albavera has five daughters who have attended Santa Rosa City Schools, the youngest still a student at Montgomery High School. He has several relatives and friends who graduated from Elsie Allen.

“I want to let students know that I care about them, care deeply about their future — the same way I would want an administrator to look at my children,” he said.

Tamayo said many Elsie Allen students have never traveled very far out of Roseland or southwest Santa Rosa. Some have never been visited SRJC.

“I think he’s the right person for that school,” he said about Albavera, whom he has known since he worked as a counselor. “He understands what those kids are going through.”

Albavera said he believes “every student can learn and every student can be successful.”

In Stablein’s parting letter to Elsie Allen students and faculty printed in the yearbook, she thanked the community and echoed Albavera’s sentiments.

“I leave this as my legacy to you. Remember LOBOS to always dream, plan, and work to achieve whatever you set your mind to,” she wrote. “You can do it! Su se puede!”

Stablein has two adult sons and lives with her husband in Rohnert Park. She started her education career as an art teacher, and in retirement she hopes to focus on her art, again.

You can reach Staff Writer Susan Minichiello at 707-521-5216 or susan.minichiello@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @susanmini.

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