WILMINGTON — Big plans are in the offing for St. Mark’s High School, some that will be implemented as early as the next academic year.
Carol Ripken, the principal, said the school community has been very busy the past few months exploring what needs to be done and how to do it. Although she was named to the principal’s position just last summer, she knew what was happening at St. Mark’s through her former job as assistant superintendent of schools for the diocese.
Among the improvements on the way at the Pike Creek school:
n A new schedule format. The school expects to release the new format soon that will “allow our students more academic opportunities during the course of the day and also to help us better schedule the courses they are signing up for,” she said.
n New courses. Although these will not be finalized until next month, some possibilities include developing mobile apps for iPhones and iPads, publications and public speaking. Fine arts will be required, and every freshman will have the chance to experience art, music and theater, according to Ripken.
n Improvements in technology. The school has increased its bandwidth capacity replaced its wireless network, and is upgrading its servers.
“All this is in preparation for a one-to-one program in technology in the near future, perhaps as early as the next school year,” Ripken said.
Teachers are participating in a pilot program using iPads, MacBook Pros and ChromeBooks so the school can make an informed decision on which platform to use. Ripken said there probably will not be a full implementation next year, but she hopes the incoming freshmen will be the first St. Mark’s students to participate in a one-to-one program.
n Renovated science laboratories. There will be six such labs, thanks to a $750,000 grant from the Longwood Foundation, Ripken said.
The building itself is in excellent condition and has seen several improvements over the years. Ripken said she is eager to see the auditorium renovated. Its seats and sound system are original and need replacement. The school has approximately $200,000 raised for this purpose and is only some $30,000 short of what is needed.
In her first year at St. Mark’s, Ripken said she has been very impressed with what she has seen.
“I love the spirit of the students around the school. I’ve worked in many places, and I’ve never seen a more spirited student body than the one that is here. They are good leaders, they are articulate, they are faith-filled,” she said.
Administrators have made an effort to empower the students. For example, the student council, working with the students, chose the theme for this year, “Forever United, Forever Faithful, Forever Spartans.”
Living out the Year of Faith, faculty members have put biblical quotes on their doors, Ripken said.
“They’ve been sharing with their students why they chose the particular quotes they did, so they’re sharing a piece of their own spirituality with their students on a daily basis.”
Ripken noted that there are five phases of classes to accommodate a range of academic aptitude. St. Mark’s has an Aquinas Scholars program for gifted students and the EMMAUS program for some special needs. There are 25 athletic teams and nearly 50 student clubs and organizations.
“One of the kids said to me the first week I was here, ‘Miss Ripken, the thing you’re going to love about St. Mark’s is there’s something here for everyone.’ And when I look at the academic program, the curricular side and the co-curricular side, they’re right,” she said.
One of her goals is to get the alumni more invested in the school. Communication with graduates has increased, and administrators are talking about bringing some in for a career day. The alumni association is meeting regularly.
“I wish we could get more alums to come back and see and feel what I do every day here,” she said.
from middle schools
St. Mark’s is also working to stabilize its enrollment, which dropped from 1,082 last year (as reported to the state Department of Education) to just under 1,000 this year. Ripken said St. Mark’s situation is no different from that of most Catholic schools, which have seen their numbers decline recently as the economy soured and charter schools proliferated in Delaware.
One of the things the school is doing is meeting with principals and middle-school teachers of its largest feeders to find out what those students find attractive.
“They are making some very practical, easily put together suggestions for us. And it involves not just students, but it involves what we can do with parents of middle school students and teachers of elementary school students here at St. Mark’s,” she said. “We want to know that so that in our future we can address whatever the issues might be.”
St. Mark’s needs to look at the way it markets itself, according to Ripken. One of the things administrators have heard is that St. Mark’s is “so big.” The school needs to address how it can emphasize to prospective families that students are in a small-class setting and that they won’t get lost, she added.
School leaders have not pinpointed a target number for enrollment, but Ripken believes it would be helpful for strategic planning.
Ripken is confident about St. Mark’s future. She cited the words of the school’s founder, Bishop Michael Hyle: “Go forth from this school to create a better world, one more pleasing to God and more helpful to mankind.”
Ripken said that’s been the school’s call for nearly half a century. “And we plan on doing this for far longer.”