Masuk’s Mark Schwarz: Helping students get through challenges

Mark Schwarz Masuk

Masuk Schwarz grew up in Monroe, where his father was a Lutheran minister and his mother was a teacher. (Photo by Karen Kovacs Dydzuhn)

Three top administrators at Masuk High School have returned to their alma mater to pursue their professional careers, including Mark Schwarz, a 1988 graduate.

While Schwarz didn’t know Principal Joe Kobza and Assistant Principal Julia Strong, both 1990 graduates, as a student, they had many common friends.

Their bond with each other and the high school continue to be strong as they now work together to oversee Masuk. “Mark, Julia and I have a great working relationship,” Kobza said.

As an assistant principal, Schwarz is the administrator primarily responsible for disciplinary action.

“Mark is extremely diligent and reliable in all that he does at Masuk,” Kobza said. “I know that any initiative he is engaged in will be meticulously performed. He is highly respected by the students and staff, and he always has our students’ best interests in mind when making decisions.”


An at-risk focus

Although Schwarz said he “wears many hats,” a major part of his job is working with students who are at risk. In partnership with the student assistance team, he assists young people struggling with academics and attendance issues.

He counsels students and supports the school psychologists and directors at Monroe’s alternative education programs, Project REAL and REACH.

Schwarz also is involved with maintaining a safe and nurturing school climate. He said this can improve student achievement, increase social and emotional well-being, and lessen behavioral issues, absenteeism and dropout rates.


Student advisory program helps

He said Masuk’s student advisory program is helpful. Through this initiative, students meet in small group every couple of weeks with a faculty member. Teachers remain with the same students throughout their four years at Masuk.

“We’ve learned that it’s important that kids feel they have an adult connection in the building,” Schwarz explained.

Schwarz is currently a co-adviser of a group of freshmen students. “It’s really nice for me,” he said. “It’s a great break from my daily work to be able to get to know the students.”


Recognizing good deeds

Last year, Schwarz attended a conference on bullying. “Bullying is not a huge issue here, but it’s something I have on my mind,” Schwarz said. “We try to intervene before it becomes a situation.”

Reinforcing positive behaviors is another way the high school enhances a positive learning community and avoids negative incidents, such as bullying.

Mark Schwarz Masuk

Mark Schwarz now is an assistant principal at the high school from which he graduated in 1988, Masuk. (Photo by Karen Kovacs Dydzuhn)

Beginning this year, faculty and staff members are encouraged to participate in the Panther’s Pride program by nominating students for doing something good for others or for the school. Paperwork on these spontaneous good deeds is turned in to the administrators’ office.

“At the end of the month we put all of the slips of paper in a big hat and pull out one person who will win an iTunes gift card,” Schwarz said.

Without a doubt, one of the best parts of his job is calling parents to tell them their son or daughter did something terrific at school.

“I love making those phone calls,” Schwarz said. “Unfortunately, I make my share of the other kind of calls, too.”

Holding up some recent Panther’s Pride ballots, Schwarz randomly selected one that described a student comforting another student who was in distress in the cafeteria.

“Do you know when this took place? The date is Dec. 14,” Schwarz said.

At the time, the student was upset about the evolving events at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where a lone shooter killed 20 first graders and six educators.


Disciplinary role

When dealing with students’ discipline issues, Schwarz never hesitates to offer words of advice to Monroe’s youth.

“My catch phrase that I’m always saying to students is, ‘It’s all about decisions,’” Schwarz said. “I’m not a yeller. When they come in my office, I am going to talk to them and counsel them. I try to convey the message that, ‘You made a mistake. Now, what could you have done differently?’”


Security improvements

In response to the school shooting in Newtown, Schwarz will oversee some structural and procedural security improvements at Masuk.

The high school’s emergency procedures will be reinforced through continual drills for lockdowns. “We’ve done this in the past and we’ll continue to do this,” Schwarz said. “We work very closely with the Monroe Police Department and David York [Monroe’s emergency management director].”


Local upbringing

A Monroe native, Schwarz’s mother worked as an English teacher at Chalk Hill and guidance counselor at Masuk. His father, Charles Schwarz, was pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church for 29 years before succumbing to illness in 1999.

Although he resides in Beacon Falls, Schwarz continues to have strong ties to Good Shepherd Church.

Schwarz joined the Masuk team as a substitute teacher. A history major, he received his master’s degree in teaching at Quinnipiac University. Schwarz said his interested in history was initially fostered by Masuk teacher Carl Bodnar. (Bodnar continues to work part-time at Masuk.)

“He inspired me,” Schwarz said. “I had other influential teachers at Masuk, too, but Carl Bodnar stands out.”


Many different school roles

Schwarz then worked as a special education aide, history and social studies teacher, Technology Education Department chairman, teaching dean, and in 2002, as dean of students. Two years later, he took over the assistant principal post left vacant by the retiring Leon Mackewicz.

“I never know what to expect each day,” he said. “I have a lot of irons in the fire. It’s challenging, too.”

What makes his job special are the students and staff. “I love the people I work with,” Schwarz added. “I also really love the students.

“I miss being in the classroom, but I try to get out there, in the cafeteria, and get to know as many of them as I can,” he said.

Schwarz is married with three sons, ages 11 to 7.

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