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New St. Thomas More leader is dreaming big

Aug. 21, 2008

Despite the boxes and stacks of paper piled in his office, new St. Thomas More High School Principal Mark Joerres plans to run a tight ship.

"I want to take all that is good here and make it great, and to take all that is great and make it even better," he said.

That means enhancing everything the private high school has to offer, such as its curriculum, instruction, student discipline, athletic programs and extra-curricular clubs, he said.

The broad-sweeping goal is not a sign that the 45-year-old STMHS alumnus thinks the school is in desperate need of improvement or that students are out of control, he said, but rather is spurred by Joerres' high expectations for the school. As a result, he plans to make sure tardiness policies and the dress code will be enforced more stringently, and inappropriate behavior and cell phone use will be less tolerated by school staff.

The mission is being built on a strong foundation, he said.

Under the leadership of former interim Principal Terry Benter, freshmen and sophomores were required to tote laptop computers instead of textbooks last school year. St. Thomas More is the only wireless school in the Milwaukee area, Joerres said.

Because the school replaced traditional textbooks with more tech-savvy e-books, enrollment increased by 40 percent last year - that's well above national averages. Enrollment has increased by 20 more students this year, he said.

Joerres hopes to further boost enrollment by moving to laptop computers at every grade level down the road. He also hopes to take the program to the next level.

"We want to become what I call a 'green school,' " he said.

A program that teaches students how to use energy efficiently and to recycle materials would be "cutting-edge," he said. If such a program were in place, students might begin designing solar panels for the building, which would save the school money while students learn to be more energy efficient. Such a program would make St. Thomas More the first green school, he said.

As the school year begins, Joerres said he is getting to know students and staff.

"What I didn't expect coming here is that I would meet a staff so passionate, dedicated and hardworking," he said. "They are all about the kids."

Joerres' main goal is getting to know the kids and making a positive difference in their lives. Students came back to class Aug. 20, so he's just now getting the opportunity to undertake that endeavor. Throughout the school year, Joerres will hold coffee sessions for those who want to learn more about the school.

"I look forward to the incredible future St. Thomas More will have with our programs, with our curriculum, with our buildings, and with our families," he said.

Making changes will take time, he said.

"We're going in the right direction, and we're definitely on track," he said. "I'm just learning so much, and it's all new."

By the Numbers

445 students enrolled for the 2008-09 school year

425 students enrolled in 2007-08

$7,850 approximate yearly tuition

15:1 student to teacher ratio

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