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Plano school says success due to strong foundation

Father Clifford Smith, Principal Suzanne Bacot, the Hoke family, Jackson, 8, Mason, 5, their mother Shelly, Brooklyn, 2, and their father Jeff, who have all been related to the St. Mark school over the past 30 years, on March 25, 2013 at St. Mark's School in Plano. (BEN TORRES/Special Contributor)

Father Clifford Smith, Principal Suzanne Bacot, the Hoke family, Jackson, 8, Mason, 5, their mother Shelly, Brooklyn, 2, and their father Jeff, who have all been related to the St. Mark school over the past 30 years, on March 25, 2013 at St. Mark’s School in Plano. (BEN TORRES/Special Contributor)

By Seth Gonzales
Special to The Texas Catholic

PLANO—St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic School is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year and Principal Suzanne Bacot believes its growth and success is because of a solid foundation.

“I am a firm believer that every day is a milestone in the field of education,” said Bacot, who has seen the school grow in just about every way since its founding. “We don’t grow by leaps and bounds. It takes a daily, consistent, and meaningful focus to educate a child—mind, body and soul.”

Since her hiring as the school’s principal in 1983, Bacot’s pragmatic approach to education is cited as one of many reasons the school has become one of the few in the country to be recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as a “Blue Ribbon National School of Excellence”—twice.

“Next year, we are going to start to work to get it a third time,” said Father Clifford Smith, pastor of St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Parish.

By the early 1980s, the already existing St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Parish had identified the need for a school. When it opened for the 1982-1983 school year, 113 students from kindergarten through third grade were welcomed. Today, the school is home to  679 students. In an effort to keep class sizes down to 25 students in the elementary and middle school grades, there are three classes of every grade level.

As the classes grew, so did the campus. Eleven classrooms, as well as space for administrative offices were added in 1985. A cafetorium and regulation-size gymnasium were also constructed and brought the campus’ size to where it currently stands today.

A new entryway to the school also has been added and fundraising is already underway with the goal of purchasing a new indoor/outdoor communications system, as well as upgrades to the cafetorium’s stage, curtain, lighting, and sound system.

“The celebration of our 30th anniversary pays tribute to all of those that came before us,” said Jenee Richey, the school’s director of development. “St. Mark has just been so blessed with so many incredibly giving, talented parishioners and parents. It really pays tribute to remembering those that came before us and establishing our school. It also pays tribute to those here with us right now sitting in the seats, while at the same time building for the future.”

Shelly Hoke is one of the many alumni who now entrust the education of their children to the very school in which she was formed.

“When I was there, I felt like it really prepared me for life,” said Hoke, whose children Jackson and Mason are currently students, while daughter Brooklyn will start the pre-kindergarten program next year.

“I never struggled in high school and college,” she said. “I felt like I was really prepared for the challenges that you’re going to face at those levels. It gave me a confidence that I could do anything. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to send my kids there.”

Hoke’s son Jackson is a student in Carolyn Eisele’s second grade class. Eisele, whose own children, Monica and Brian, graduated from St. Mark, said the strength of the school isn’t so much what it teaches, but how it lives.

“We believe in continuously building and strengthening our academics, faith and community service,” Eisele said. “It’s wonderful being a part of this celebration as both a teacher and former parent.”

As the school’s longest-tenured teacher, Janet Gerwer has welcomed hundreds, if not thousands, of students into her classroom over the last 29 years, including Shelly Hoke.

“It is grand to see children of my former students attending St. Mark,” Gerwer said.  “I marvel at what we have become and wonder at where we are going. It boggles my mind to think of all the productive Catholic citizens that have graduated from St. Mark.”

One of her students, Kenny Cooper, is now a forward for FC Dallas, plying his trade as a professional soccer player. Cooper recalled his one and only year at St. Mark, which came after his family relocated to Dallas from Florida. Gerwer was Cooper’s homeroom teacher.

“It was never easy to move at a young age, but my time at St. Mark made that transition so much easier,” said Cooper, who entered the school as an eighth-grader and graduated in 1999. “The friendships I made there even helped me transition into high school, since a few of my friends ended up attending Jesuit Preparatory School with me.”

For Father Smith—who recently received a national Distinguished Pastor Award from the National Catholic Educational Association for his support of Catholic elementary education—the best indicator that the school is on the right track might be seen in the graduates who send their own children to St. Mark.

“It’s part of their family history,” Father Smith said. “Some families are on their third generation of sending their kids here. I’m pleased with what we are doing.”