By Paul Downer
By Paul Downer
Zion Lutheran School in Cologne will have a new principal when classes resume this fall, but Tom Marcsisak hardly needs introduction to anyone who is connected with the church or the school.
In fact, many folks at Zion probably have a hard time remembering what things were like before Marcsisak arrived. He is starting his 32nd year in education this fall, and over that time Zion Lutheran School is the only place that the 53-year-old Marcsisak has wanted to teach.
"I’ve been here since 1981, so I kind of know how the school works." Marcsisak said with a laugh. "We raised three daughters here and I think they turned out pretty well. I’m passionate about Zion. I love this place."
Marcsisak replaces David Gosa, who accepted a call back to his home state of Wisconsin after two years at Zion to be closer to family, and the school would be hard pressed to find a more qualified candidate. Marcsisak has been involved in all aspects of education at Zion during his three decades of time there. He started off teaching grades 3-5 in one classroom and held that position for 19 years before switching to 5-6 grade over the last dozen years or so. He also is the school’s athletic director, has directed the choir and even covered some custodial duties. His wife, Julianne, also taught at Zion for nine years.
While Marcsisak only recently agreed to take over as principal, he has been on the school board’s radar as a good fit for the position for almost two decades. About 17 years ago the principal’s position opened up and Marcsisak said the school board approached him in regard to taking the position, but he didn’t feel ready to change things up. He had a job working for a travel agency out of Waconia during the summer and wasn’t sure he would be able to continue with that while taking over the school as well.
"I was gone for 30-35 days out of the three months of summer. I didn’t know if I could still do that and be the administrator, being absent from the area that much," he said.
Two years ago the principal position opened up again, and Marcsisak again turned down the opportunity to step into the role. Over the past several years, however, Marcsisak said he began to reconsider.
"I watched the work and it was like, ‘You know, I could do this,’" Marcsisak said. "Some of the things that are considered administrative work I was sort of doing anyway. And as long as you have a secretary that knows what’s going on, what needs to be done and when, then you’re OK. I’m in that position here. We have a very good administrative secretary, so I think we’ll be fine."
Overall, Marcsisak said the school has a strong staff and historical foundation, so he isn’t overly worried about the rigors of preparing for the upcoming school year.
"We have been at this for over 150 years," he said, referring to the fact that the church was founded in 1857 and started a school shortly thereafter. "Granted I haven’t been at it that long, but we have a very good staff, a good cross-section age-wise who are very dedicated to what they’re doing here and the purpose of the school. So getting ready for school is not something that’s necessarily a big process."
While Marcsisak has already worked what many would consider a full career at 32 years, he said he doesn’t plan on leaving the school anytime soon.
"I’m sure I’ll get to 40 years here, unless I’m one cheeseburger away from a massive coronary," he said with a laugh. "But yes, God willing, I can see myself still being here 10 years down the line. I tell people that I don’t go to work. If you love what you do, you never go to work. And I love what I do. I work with people I enjoy and deal with kids who I’m hopefully helping develop into productive members of society. I just love it.
"So can I see myself doing this longer? I don’t need to be principal. I could easily hand over the reigns to someone younger and go back to being a classroom teacher no problem. But at this point in time it was a good fit."
Marcsisak said he had a number of objectives in mind for his tenure as principal. First, he said his goal is to continue the strong Christian education that has been in place at the school for over 150 years.
"That tradition includes a Christ-centered education. We teach the faith," he said. "That permeates the curriculum. Math is still math, but we teach the faith, and not just in religion class for 45 minutes a day. But we want it to permeate their life, that they make decisions based on the whole ‘What would Jesus do’ idea and use those moral guidelines to make decisions for their whole life. We want it to be part of their makeup, not just the answer to some questions in religion class."
He highlighted reading, math and writing as far as academics, pointing out that the school is adding an accelerated reader program this fall, that there are three classes of math available for 7-8th graders and that many students find themselves ahead of their peers in writing when they get to high school.
Another goal is to get the word out about the school and emphasize its small class sizes, strong test scores and advantage in technology (7-8th graders are in the process of transferring from textbooks to electronic tablets). Extra-curriculars are another highlight, said Marcsisak, with band, choir and music programs offered along with drama opportunities and sports.
"Anything you get at a larger private school or public school, we offer here," he said.
Finally, Marcsisak said another objective is to grow. To aid in that process the school is continuing its first year free tuition program.
"We’re confident that if someone comes for one year they’re going to say, ‘Wow, what a resource and a blessing this little school out here on the hill here is to my family and my child,’" said Marcsisak.
The school and church community have certainly been a blessing to the Marcsisak family since Tom and Julianne first attended church there after accepting their teaching positions three decades ago. They moved to Waconia and raised a family consisting of three daughters: Tara, Tiffany and Tonya.
"Thirty years might be a long time, but it seems like just yesterday that we came here that Sunday in May of 1981 and sat in the congregation," he said. "I love this place."