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New Catholic high school opening is historic for diocese

    MARYVILLE — In one corner of Principal Mike Scholz’s modest office sits one of his most valued assets, a small, round table that he says speaks to the character of Father McGivney High School.
    “The kids have fondly named that table the ‘Round Table of Knowledge’,” he said. “Kids don’t do their homework, they’re sent to my office and sit at that table. Kids do the homework and go back to class. There’s a reduction in grade, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Failure is not an option here at school.”
    Scholz plans to take that furniture with him this month when Father McGivney High School moves to its new home.
    “I wouldn’t part with it,” he said.
    He and the rest of the McGivney Griffins community are looking to becoming a part of Southern Illinois history when the new school opens to students Aug. 20 at 7190 Bouse Road, Glen Carbon. It is the first Catholic high school built in the Springfield Diocese in decades. Ground was broken last November.
    The new high school’s senior class members were all freshmen when the school launched in 2012 in temporary space at St. John Neumann Elementary School in Maryville.
    “We started four years ago with 19 freshmen. We will have in excess of 130 students (representing all four grades) at the new school,” Scholz said. “The freshmen were our pioneer class and it was a lonely first year. Obviously, we spoiled them. But it’s a great class, with great kids and great leaders.”
    The school is actually being constructed to house 400, with some of the second floor remaining unfinished until needed.
    The punch list from the contractor is expected to be done the first week of August. That would give the school plenty of time to move new the furniture.
    A dedication ceremony with Bishop Thomas Paprocki will take place at the new facility at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 30.
    Holland Construction Services of Swansea is the general contractor, working from a design by Hurford Architects Inc., of Glen Carbon. The 53,000-square-foot, two-story facility includes several classrooms and a commons area, as well as a student lounge, gymnasium and chapel.
    There will be no cafeteria, but there will be plenty of food options. The students will have a series of microwaves they can use to heat their own lunch; vending machines (including health foods) they can buy from; or they can buy from one of the satellite food choices that the school is now arranging with local restaurants.
    “Monday might be Culver’s, Tuesday might be Chick-fil-A Day, Wednesday might be Domino’s Day, “ Scholz said. “A lot of private schools do this, and I think it’s something our kids are excited about. I surveyed them last year to see what their preferences were, and I’m taking that into account when I contact these vendors.”
    The school is state of the art, with the latest in technology and equipment for its science laboratories, a laptop for every student, and lighting run by computer. Each classroom has a 70-inch screen TV onto which teachers can project lessons from their own laptop.
    Even snow days will be a high-tech adventure. There will, in effect, be none.
    “Our teachers have prepared lessons on line for students to do at home, and our teachers keep virtual hours, so they are on line for a period of time to help kids. That affords us more vacations and longer vacations during the year,” Scholz said.
    The students are mandated to have 5.5 hours a day of education, and there is software that tracks them to make sure they are meeting those requirements.
    School officials visited Gibault Catholic High School in Waterloo, which handles snow days the same way.
    “It took us a year to develop lessons, and our kids stayed home one day and practiced it. Interestingly enough, most kids came back and said they’d rather be in school,” he said with a chuckle.
    While the new athletic fields are yet to be done, Father McGivney has traditionally offered a variety of athletics, including boys and girls soccer, cross country and volleyball.
    The school has already won an Illinois High School Association state championship in — of all things — bass fishing. The trophy is kept within view of the principal’s office.
    That particular sport has been available in Illinois schools for the last 10 years or so, with no distinction between Class A, Class AA, etc.
    “Typically, it’s four or five team members. But we had one student, a sophomore (Ethan Jones), who caught the biggest bass and the most fish to win the state tournament in 2015. “
    The school also hosts several extracurricular programs, from scholastic bowl to language clubs to cheerleading.
    The stress though will always be education, Scholz said, noting that the school requires four years of English, math and science.
    “Our kids are doing very well on the ACT Composite (test scores),” he said.
    Some 1,600 donors raised $5 million in a capital campaign for the school, which should end up costing around $7.2 million to $8 million. First Clover Leaf Bank is providing financing. The school is named for Michael J. McGivney, a 19th century priest and founder of the Knights of Columbus.
    The number of supporters is testament, Scholz said, to his belief that McGivney is more than just a school.
    “We truly believe that this is the McGivney Family,” he said. “I know every family, every parent, very well.”
    The students come from throughout Metro East — towns like Granite City, Collinsville, Troy,. Fairview Heights, Highland, Glen Carbon, Maryville, Belleville, Staunton. They largely come from markets not already served by the next closest Catholic high schools, Marquette in Alton and Althoff in Belleville.
    Right now, the school employs 12 full-time and four part-time teachers. and only a couple more are expected to be hired with the new school year.
    Some 20 percent of Father McGivney’s students are not Catholic, Scholz said, noting that some supporters recognize the value of private education. Among advantages are smaller class sizes and less peer pressure — because students wear uniforms, they don’t stress out over what to wear, he said.
    Scholz has been at Father McGivney since the beginning, but this is his 41st year in education.
    Scholz spent the first 35 years of his career in public education.
    “It’s been a great change. I was principal of Mascoutah High School and then I retired from public school and went to Champaign where I was assistant principal and then principal of St. Thomas More High School.”
    Scholz attended Catholic schools as a young man.
    “The offer in Champaign was a chance to give back to the Catholic education that gave me a whole lot,” he said.
    His daughter, who lives in Troy, saw an ad for the Father McGivney job and told her father about it.
    Scholz is a one-time president of the Illinois High School Principals Association and just finished a four-year term on the board of the National Association of Second School Principals.

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