Thursday, April 20, 2006

St. Mark School: Reflections from a Parent, Parishioner and Principal

I have recently received two anonymous comments (here and here) regarding the turmoil some are feeling at my kids' school, St. Mark.

I have posted before on what a great school I think St. Mark is. As an alumni of St. Mark School, my wife and I are ardent supporters of Catholic education and have been very happy with St. Mark and the role it has played in the development of our children's academic and moral education.

While I have posted links (above) to the comments in the permalink of the post they are attached to, I want to draw them out so I may comment on them.

Comment from April 14, 2006:

Your passion for Catholic thought and insight is inspirational! The efforts you are putting forth will lead people to Christ! Please tackle the difficult question of why the local Catholic school (St Mark School)is being torn apart by internal strife and conflict. Having good Catholic teachers (with many years 15+ of uplifting and spiritual service) leave the school! Many people are hurt and dismayed by these actions.

Comment from April 20, 2006:
Please tackle the difficult question of why the local Catholic school (St Mark School)is being torn apart by internal strife and conflict. Having good Catholic teachers (with many years 15+ of uplifting and spiritual service) leave the school! Many people are hurt and dismayed by these actions.


First of all, I'd like to thank the commentor(s) on their compliments. It is my hope that MCR will bring me closer to Christ, and I pray that anyone who reads it will come closer to Christ through what I share. As far as inspirational, I wouldn't go that far...

Now on to my reflection on what is going on at St. Mark. Please remember that these comments come from a parent of children at the school, as one who has received state certification to be a school principal, and not from my role as Pastoral Council Chair or as an employee of the Madison County School District. I just want to make that clear.

As a parent, I am very content with the education, both academic and spiritual, my children are receiving at St. Mark. I feel like the tuition I am paying to St. Mark, and the sacrifices my family is making in order to pay that tuition are worth the "return" I see in my children. Kathy and I feel like spiritual and academic teaching starts at home and is reinforced at school. We are comfortable with not only this year's progress, but are already excited about next year.

I understand that there are teachers who are leaving. I have not personally spoken to any of them about why they are leaving. I can suspect why they may be leaving, but in the end, revealing my suspicions here, in this forum, would only add to the gossip and negativity I hear coming from a few vocal disgruntled parents. I pray for them as they emabark on new careers or enjoy retirement. I also pray that the principal will find quality Catholic teachers to fill their positions who will in turn fill the minds and hearts of their students.

As an educator, and as a principal, I know that teachers come and go. In my 31 years of being associated with St. Mark School, I have observed many teachers and administrators as a student, parishioner, and as a parent. We have been very fortunate at St. Mrk School to have quality Catholic and non-Catholic teachers in that time. Some have stayed for a very long time, some have stayed one or two years. Some have left of their own accord, and some have been asked to leave.

As an administrator, I know that communication is essential in any good school. I rely on my teachers to communicate to me their concerns and questions. I welcome the comments of parents. My decisions are informed ones, and do not always sit well with my teachers and parents. There are things, as a principal, I am aware of which are for my information and help me make my decisions. It would make my job much more difficult, and unnecessary, if I were to share those things with my staff. That's why I am an administrator.

In the last 31 years, I have always been welcomed when asked to talk with principals and teachers, either as a student, parishioner, or parent, at St. Mark. I have not always gotten the answers I wanted, but I have always gotten answers. I trust in the Lord that He is guiding the leadership and staff of both our parish and school at St. Mark.

I am saddened that some parents and teachers are unsatisfied with St. Mark. But in reality, that happens. And in my opinion, we all have to ask ourselves if staying or leaving is what the Lord wants us to do. As parents, we should be thankful that we have the opportunity and means to choose which school our chidren go to. As educators, we should be thankful for the gifts and talents the Lord has given us to open the minds, hearts and souls of those we teach.

I know this rambles a bit, but I hope it satisfies my anonymous commentor(s). If not, please feel free to leave additional comments.

Here's a prayer I think we all should pray:
Please Lord bless those who teach and administer to Catholic schools. Bless the children who learn and help open their mind to a valuable education. Bless those who support the schools financially and through volunteer efforts. Amen.

5 comments:

Barb, sfo said...

I'm outside the situation but have seen plenty of school-related turmoil (as a former teacher & a current parent of students). Thank you for the way you are handling this situation--with grace and discretion and charity. I know emotions run high, because we are (or should be) thinking of the best interests of our kids, but we can learn to take the high road.

Darren Norton said...

Barb -
I appreciate your comment. You are right, emotions do run high at a time like this, but I think the saddest thing of all is the friendships my kids and my wife have made which may very well be disolved because parents may be moving to another school within the diocese, but outside the city. In such a small, close-knit environment, those few friendships revolve around the school and the church.

Barb, sfo said...

We're in a similar boat right now with the closing of our kids' school. We will lose contact with some wonderful people who have chosen differently than we have, for our children's education next year. It affects the whole neighborhood dynamic, and not necessarily in a good way. I know that I feel reluctant to have to start all over again (in 2 places, since I have one starting high school) and be the new people on the block, so to speak....not always an easy thing.

Anonymous said...

What a heart felt response. Your 31-year association with St. Mark has served you well! You certainly did not ramble because it is a complicated issue with many facets.
I am sure it is difficult to deal with such complicated feelings for a person who has such a strong association for so many years with the St. Mark community.
Unfortunately members of our St Mark family are being treated with no respect, compassion or dignity for their years of loyal, caring Christian service. These persecuted people helped build and guide our school community. ALWAYS! ALWAYS! Guided by Christ! Your heart knows this! The same way all our hearts know a person with a 31-year relationship with St. Mark should have been chosen as the new principal! A person who does not speak in half-truths. Rather a person who aligns himself with the teachings of Christ through their daily actions. A person who values the community! I hope that my candor is understood . Instead of guiding and expanding our community through the love of Christ we are being torn apart by someone who wants to glorify himself. I pray these leaders of our St. Mark community can find the true love, which Christ shared with us. Thank you for having the courage to respond! Darren we (our school community) need you more than ever!

Darren Norton said...

Anonymous said:
"What a heart felt response. Your 31-year association with St. Mark has served you well! You certainly did not ramble because it is a complicated issue with many facets.I am sure it is difficult to deal with such complicated feelings for a person who has such a strong association for so many years with the St. Mark community."

I appreciate that. But this really isn't as complicated as you may think. My strong and long association with St. Mark has provided me with opportunities to witness many hills and valleys at St. Mark; six priests, six principals, countless teachers, and tremendous growth and rennovation. What I have learned is to put my trust in the Lord. It seems to have worked thus far.

Anonymous said:
"Unfortunately members of our St Mark family are being treated with no respect, compassion or dignity for their years of loyal, caring Christian service."

I just don't see that happening. I have not witnessed it, nor experienced it. I surely hope no one thinks I have initiated it.

Anonymous said:
"The same way all our hearts know a person with a 31-year relationship with St. Mark should have been chosen as the new principal!"

If you know me, you know I struggled with this. But in the end, I know the Lord needed me somewhere else. Please see my initial reaction on this post (http://nortonnewsnotes.blogspot.com/2005/05/whats-better-not-being-picked-or-being.html) and my resolution (http://nortonnewsnotes.blogspot.com/2005/08/divine-intervention.html) on one of my other blogs. I feel the Lord (and selection committee) put the best person for the job in place this year.

Anonymous wrote:
"Thank you for having the courage to respond!'

I have put my comments out there for all to read, with my name attached. I would hope you would have the courage to do the same.

I would ask that future discussion of this matter be sent to my email, dcnorton[AT]gmail[DOT]com (the brackets are to prevent spiders and blogbots from searching and retreiving email)