New Marquette Academy to open in Ottawa Aug. 17

By: By Jennifer Willems

OTTAWA — More than 500 students will walk through the doors of the new Marquette Academy on Aug. 17, making it the first school in the Diocese of Peoria to enroll young people from pre-kindergarten through high school.

“It will be neat to see them all be Crusaders, to see them in blue and gold. I’m really excited,” said Brooke Rick, Marquette Academy’s first principal.

She acknowledged that it will be a bittersweet day as the reconfiguration of St. Patrick’s School, St. Columba’s School and Marquette High School into one school on three campuses becomes a reality, but “the doors are going to open and we’re going to make it work.”

“Change is hard. Even for me change is hard,” Rick told The Catholic Post. “There will be some bumps and bruises along the way, but if we stay positive great things are going to happen.”

Her enthusiasm is echoed by the staff that surrounds her, she said.

“The administrative team is wonderful. I came in at 7 o’clock one night last week and four of them were here,” Rick said. “They know that’s what we have to do to get it up and running.”

That administrative team includes Terry Wisniewski, assistant principal, and Lisa Tenut, business manager, who are new to Marquette, and Jon Leslie, dean of students; Lori Jesse, assistant business manager and director of development; and Todd Hopkins, athletic director. Father Chris Haake, pastor of St. Teresa’s Parish in Earlville and chaplain of Marquette High School since 2006, continues as chaplain of Marquette Academy.

A graduate of Marquette High School, Rick taught there for six years and was assistant principal for three years before being named principal of Marquette Academy in April.

One of the benefits of moving to the academy concept is that they have been able to “align the curriculum,” Rick said.

“We know exactly what’s being taught from pre-school through high school,” she explained. Not only does that allow for better collaboration between the teachers, but it will make the transition easier for the students as they move from the early education campus at the former St. Patrick’s School to the elementary campus at the former St. Columba’s School to the high school campus.

“That way it won’t be so scary to go to the high school campus. We’re all one,” Rick said. “I want the kids to feel, ‘This is my school, no matter what campus I’m on.'”

The academy is also piloting an accelerated program this year, starting with the eighth grade class. Rick said she anticipates that 12 to 15 of the 34 eighth-graders will participate.

Participation is based on their scores on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and the recommendation of their teachers. In addition, they must have carried an A/B average in all curriculum last year and have their parent’s consent, she said.

“So far the kids and the parents are pretty excited about it,” Rick told The Post. “We want to push them to excel — and this will better prepare them for the honors curriculum in high school.”

Rick said they are happy with enrollment, noting that they even got a few more than they were expecting in kindergarten through eighth grade.

The pre-school, which includes one 3-year-old class and one 4-year-old class in the morning and a mixed class in the afternoon, has between 50 and 60 pupils. At the grade school level there are about 265 enrolled, and the high school has held steady at 200.

“A few of the classes are a bit larger than normal,” Rick said. “We didn’t want to turn away anyone who was part of St. Patrick’s or St. Columba’s. If the class was more than 28, we added an aide.”

There will be time for interaction between the high school students and their younger counterparts, which will be another way to foster the understanding that they are part of one school now: “They start with us and end with us,” she said.

While some rivalry might be expected between the fans of two different teams, Rick said the students are excited about coming together as one team. There are new uniforms and softball and baseball have been added at the grade school level. Because one of the schools had cross country, that will be offered as well.

She said she’s especially looking forward to seeing students of all ages at school Masses and being able to celebrate the sacraments with them, such as First Communion.

“The former principal (of Marquette High School), Ron Spandet, talked about the school as a sleeping giant and said you can hear it waking up at this time of year. It’s true,” Rick said.

“The curriculum is in place for the year. We’ve met with the teachers. They know what they’re teaching and how they’ll teach it. The buildings are clean,” she said. “Now we just need to get everyone moved in and comfortable with their surroundings.”

An open house is planned for Aug. 11 at the elementary campus so the students and parents can see the building. Tours will be led by the high school students and a cookie reception is being prepared by the Booster Club and Parents Club.

There will be a potluck “ice breaker” for the parents on Aug. 28.

“The kids will get to know one another pretty quickly,” Rick said. “We want to help the parents get to know one another, too.”

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