We’re honored to have Dr. Mark Majeski, a friend of Curriculum Trak, joining us in The Teacher’s Lounge podcast and here in our blog. He joins us today to share his perspective on education, past, present, and future. To listen to the full podcast, you can tune in here.

Michael Arnold: Welcome, Dr. Majeski. It’s nice to have you with us today.

Mark Majeski: Nice to see you again. Always a pleasure.

Michael Arnold: What I didn’t include in my introduction is your love of music. I hear that you have served your church as music director at times as well. Are you still doing that?

Mark Majeski: 35 years of music ministry and now I’m just doing one service on the weekends, which is great as opposed to three or four services all the time. It’s a little daunting when you are working in my position as an associate superintendent in the Catholic school system because I oversee almost 24 schools and centers.

What Is Your Role?

Michael Arnold: So with 24 schools in the diocese that you serve, how would you describe the nature of your role? What do you do to serve those schools, to coordinate those schools as the assistant superintendent?

Mark Majeski: So we have two assistant superintendents. We have 47 schools and centers in the diocese. Let me explain how our diocese is actually set up. We have three levels of schools. The first level of schools are private Catholic schools. And although we are all private, what we mean by that is private within the Catholic domain. And what that means is that we have schools that are run by sisters or priests like the Jesuits or the Sisters of the Holy Names, different types of orders. They have the permission of the bishop to operate within the diocese, which gives them this opportunity to teach to their charism.

Then we have parish schools. These schools are run by the pastor and the principal. But if the pastor and the principal would like to change the calendar–they would like to start a week later or two days later, or they’d like to have special days off because they have a carnival or a festival–they can do that without the permission of the diocese.

And as of July 1st, we will have 11 diocesan schools. In those schools, we are the pastors. We manage those schools and we worked to support them. Most of them were schools that probably would’ve closed at one point, but our two most recent bishops have been extremely dedicated to faith-based education. And so they have supported these schools up to a million dollars to keep them open, keep them running. And we’re happy to say with the fiscal management that now all but two of our schools are fiscally sound. Now with the new law in Florida, HB-1, we’re very, very lucky to have a new law that will give us up to $8,000 per child for anyone who wants to go to a private school.

Michael Arnold: Wow.

Mark Majeski: There will no longer be an income verification. So it’s going to be a very unique situation for us to be able to honor people who would like to come to a faith-based school and get an education. This is state funding that will be given to these families directly. I’ll tell you, for the people who cannot access the education that they’d like, this is a very big step up for them.

Part of our mission is to lift people out of poverty, to give them that ability to do that. Catholic education goes back hundreds and hundreds of years, and what’s interesting is that when I went to Catholic school, we paid something like $10 a month to go to school. But the sisters never turned anyone away. I had a class of 57 students in my classroom. Later, I started teaching in private Catholic schools, and then I moved into public schools. My first salary in a Catholic school was $6,000 a year. I got $500 extra because I gave up all of my preps and taught music. So, I went from eight o’clock in the morning till three o’clock in the afternoon with no break except for 20 minutes for lunch. But you do what you need to do, and it’s fun and you learn. Then you get married and say, Oh, I can’t live on $6,500 a year.

I went to public education and spent 32 years in public education before coming down to Florida and refocusing my life. That to me was really, truly a calling. It was a vocation. It’s a sense of God asking me to be somewhere for a specific purpose and to live that purpose.

I’ve brought my experience in the public schools to the Catholic setting because, as you might or might not know, most of the Catholic schools in the nation are very independent. They’re not a school system, they’re a system of schools. And that’s very different. So bringing a school system into place was really very unique because the 11 schools that we have are much closer to a school system than they are a system of schools because our office runs those schools.

And I always say that there seems to be more of a divine intervention in these things. Why did I learn all of these things? Why did I have all this preparation? What was happening? What was going on curricularly in the public schools when I jumped ship and I came over to the private setting? That experience fed me well, and it still continues to do that. So my job encompasses everything from budgeting to curriculum and instruction to evaluation, to, right now I’m sitting on a committee to build a new school, so I’m in the construction business as well.

I do a little bit of everything and it’s kind of fun actually, because you never know what your day is going to be like. You can get a telephone call from the superintendent who says, “Gosh, there’s a problem with this over here. Can you handle that?” Yeah, of course. It does help that in the public setting I helped build two schools and two gyms, so I had that experience to bring with me.

My real focus and my real passion of course is, although these schools may be semi-independent and they have a sense of their own charism, there is an importance in understanding, how do we meet the needs of a diverse population now?

At one time Catholic schools were not very diverse. They were schools that were elite. They were schools that had the opportunity to serve wealthier people because they could afford the tuition. That happened more like in the eighties, nineties, and early two thousands, but with scholarship programs, the doors opened to other people, and our teachers were not necessarily ready for that kind of change. What do you do about more single parents? What happens when you have groups of children who come without an early childhood education experience because parents can’t afford it? They come out of poverty. How do you help somebody who wants to come to the school that sees this as an avenue to get their child out of living in a depressed area? They’re often living where a mom is working two jobs just to make ends meet and can’t afford to pay the difference in tuition.

We find the way to make that happen. But in doing that, we also find that we need to be able to build different systems within the schools to help those people find success. A lot of times it’s not just about the child finding success, but it’s about the parent finding success as well. We have to build programs to build those parents up.

Michael Arnold: Yeah, that kind of draws you back to your historical purpose for Catholic education, which is to minister to the entire family as you minister to the children.

Mark Majeski: Exactly. So it’s a very eclectic and interesting role. What I do find is that it’s very rewarding. It’s very beneficial because it’s life-giving.

Michael Arnold: All those years ago when you were getting into public education or when you went into Catholic education first, what drew you into it in the first place?

Mark Majeski: What drew me into it is I went to Catholic education elementary school, but then my parents bought a new house and we were too far away from the Catholic school, so I ended up moving into public school. I didn’t have such great teachers. I was not very happy with the education that I was getting and I remember that. My experience in that middle school setting was that I couldn’t find anybody who would work with me. I wanted to go into education because I truly felt that I didn’t want people to be taught the way that I was taught.

I wanted to make a difference. My dad was a person who actually lived the gospel message. We lived in a home where you never knew who was living with us. My father would take in people who had lost their apartments. Giving just became part of who you were because it was the way you lived your life.

What Excites You About Education Today?

Michael Arnold: So what would you say excites you about the nature of education today? You’ve seen a lot in your experience over the course of your career, but what excites you about the future of education?

Mark Majeski: I want to step back a little bit and say I’ve always been excited about education. I would put it this way, sometimes I yearn for simpler times. I don’t mean simplicity, but I mean that we need to look at focusing on what’s good, what’s beautiful, what’s eternal, and what is going to support us in higher level critical thinking, and not just more and more and more and more and more. We can’t keep asking our teachers to do everything. Right now they’re teachers, they’re philosophers, they’re nurses, they’re babysitters, they’re psychologists, they’re social workers, they’re everything. My goal is to help the joy of teaching come back.

And that’s what I want to be able to do, and I want to find the right tools to do that. So if we can look at how we meet the needs of the students that we teach, and how we look at where we’re going and know the roadmap to get there, it makes it so much simpler for them. We don’t want to necessarily be like everybody else. What we would like to do is be ourselves and in being ourselves as a school, we will then meet the needs of everybody, all the students that come to us.

I always tell people, be the lighthouse. Don’t look for a lighthouse. Be the beacon. Let other people look to you to know where to go. We just don’t take the time to recognize what we do and what we do well. Let’s face it, Catholic schools have a long record of excellence. You can go back a hundred years and you see how far we’ve gone with little, right?

And so when I talk about simplicity, I’m not talking about getting rid of technology. I’m not talking about deep thinking. What I’m talking about is the joy of teaching, the joy of learning, and what that really truly means for us. A lot of times we’re so worried about the testing, the high stakes testing, and the other things that sometimes we forget the personhood of the kids that are in our classrooms.

That’s the most important thing to me. That’s what a private education actually affords us, that ability to make that contact. So what excites me is the fact that there’s a fresh year every year. Kids come into that building, and they’re ready to rock and roll and do what they need to do, and it’s us who need to keep them there.

That’s what excites me. How do I keep my administrators and my teachers excited about what they do? Because in their excitement about what they do, they pass it on to the kids.

Michael Arnold: Yeah. Sounds like you point teachers towards the relationships that they can have with their students, and the relationships that they can foster between the students and their content, and not so much the new shiny things that are always coming along in education.

Mark Majeski: Everything is about relationships. Think about it. Whether it’s our spouse, whether it’s our family, whether it’s our children, whether it’s the profession that we are in, everything is about our relationships. Sometimes what ends up happening is that, unfortunately, we have outside influences that try to negate those relationships and we have to fight those. When a child has their trust and love for you in their heart, they will work very hard for you to do whatever you want them to do.

When I talk about simplicity, it’s not a simple simplicity. It is a deep simplicity. It’s a deep sense of loving and caring about who you’re with and why you are there. I have had one rule of thumb, and I always told this to my teachers when I was a principal: If I wouldn’t put my own child in your classroom, why would I put anybody else’s?

Changing Teachers

Michael Arnold: Have you seen teachers change much in the course of your career as far as their work ethic or their approach to teaching, their classroom management styles, those kinds of things?

Mark Majeski: I want to say it’s on an individual basis. We’ve had in the past two or three years, a multitude of people leaving the public setting and coming into the private setting of schools because they’re tired of teaching exactly what they have to teach on October 10th, October 11th.

They don’t want the dictates, the testing and all those types of things. Plus they’re dealing with a lot of behavioral issues. They just want a place where they can teach. So there are a lot of teachers that come in who are very, very grateful to be in a classroom where they can teach and there’s an expectation, there’s a sense of discipline and order.

So I would say there has been a change. It’s interesting because I believe that change occurs from you as the principal, as the leader of that building. What is it that you exemplify? So if you’re out there sweeping the snow off the sidewalk, or you’re mopping up the floor because somebody’s gotten sick and vomited and the custodian is busy and so you take your gloves and you get out there and you sanitize, and when teachers see you doing that, and they see the fact that you’re invested in what happens, then the atmosphere, the culture and the climate of the school changes and teachers change. So I would say it really is individualized depending on the leader and depending on the teacher.

I would say that in any kind of situation, most of our teachers are very dedicated and hardworking. Most of them want the best for themselves and the best for their kids. Our teachers are paid less than the public school people, and I know that they work hard. They work very hard.

The major difference might be that it seems like teachers need a little more time to ground their expertise in teaching nowadays. When I went to school and when I did my internship and my student teaching, the expectations that were given to me coming out of college might have been a little higher. And that’s not to say that our teachers can’t do that now, but I do believe that it’s delayed because they don’t have as much of that in-depth training. That’s why a really good mentoring program with an excellent and expert teacher for a new teacher is very, very important. It’s extremely important these days.

Michael Arnold: What would you say, in your experience, is the biggest challenge to teachers today, maybe post-covid or other cultural influences on what it is to be a teacher?

Mark Majeski: I think that a lot of teachers are worried about edutainment as opposed to education. Our students are visually and orally stimulated constantly from the womb. I’ve seen people with iPads hanging over a baby’s crib. There’s this constant visual stimulation and entertaining children.

And I think a lot of times students may not see it or know that they’re doing it, but they come to school with an anticipation of being entertained and not educated. A lot of times teachers don’t know how to cross that channel or bring some things back.

That’s a big challenge for teachers. It’s very difficult for them to understand that there’s a time and place for certain things. Is there a time for lecturing? Absolutely. There’s got to be foundational information that’s given. Is there a time for gamification of something? Absolutely. Is there a time for a little bit of drill and kill here and there? Absolutely. I think that the teaching realm itself is so much more about the expectations. So we need to be open to understanding that and getting into how to use that knowledge to help us in the classroom.

What Should We Know About Catholic Education?

Michael Arnold: Well, I am not a Catholic educator. That’s not my background, my experience, the way I was raised, or anything like that. But I’ve always had a lot of respect for Catholic Schools, because it seems like they’re a stabilizing influence in their community. They’ve been there a long time. They’re there to serve.

But what would you tell people like me, outsiders to Catholic education, what would you want us to know that maybe we don’t already know about Catholic education?

Mark Majeski: Well, first of all, you’re forgiven, so don’t worry.

Michael Arnold: I appreciate it.

Mark Majeski: There’s still time to convert. No worries. Okay? Actually , if you’re baptized outside the Catholic church, you still are baptized in the Catholic church. So there you go. You’re already down one sacrament there.

Michael Arnold: I’m more Catholic than I realized!

Mark Majeski: So when we look at Catholic education today, we have never moved away from our faith-based curriculum. I think that what comes with that and what comes out of that is a staunch belief that without faith, without a love of God, without Jesus and the Holy Spirit, without having that, it would be very easy for us to get distracted and we can get very involved in other things that aren’t as important.

It’s that calling that allows us to minister to other people. It’s that calling that says every human being is worth something, no matter who they are, no matter how tough their parents might be. The child is always worth that. Where Catholic education is going nowadays is that it’s trying to remain a focus of a true north.

What I really mean by that is we have so many programs and so many ways of looking at life in today’s world. The Catholic school is saying we see all of that, but we want to stay focused on one thing. Not for any kind of sales bid or anything, but one of the reasons why we love Curriculum Trak is because of the faith integration. We love the fact that our teachers can plant inside their lesson planning these seeds of faith. That makes the biggest difference in the world.

I have a granddaughter who goes to a Catholic school and when she made her first communion last year, she said something that was astounding: “Instead of gifts for my communion, can we just take the money and give it to the poor people?” Now, she might have learned some of that from us, but you know that that was coming from a place where it was reinforced and supported and for a seven year old to say, Don’t worry about getting me gifts. If we can just take the money, we can give it to somebody who needs it more than I do, to me, it’s just astounding. She was taught about what it means to be better than yourself, to give, to support other humans. A continuing outreach is so important for us as Catholics.

Support for the Local Catholic School

Michael Arnold: Yeah. Well, let me flip that. As we talk about education, educators, and trends in education, what would you say to someone who’s on the outside looking in is the best way that they could support the local Catholic or faith-based school and the local Christian educator?

Mark Majeski: Pray for them, number one. We sometimes forget about the power of prayer. But I would say beyond that is to be open, to listen, to stop. If you’re around there locally, support the school by coming to a concert, by going to some kind of event that the school might be running. Learn about the community, become part of that community, even if it’s from the outside. I think that a lot of times what happens is that we’re fearful. We see the sign outside of the church that says, Spaghetti Dinner, and we think, oh, that’s only for their congregation. But they would take our money and we could learn about them. If you can’t do it by yourself, I tell people all the time, get some friends, get another couple or another family, and say, Hey, I saw this thing down there. Just go together and have a good time. I would say find the small avenues. Find the small things that you can do. It’s not always about money, it’s about presence.

Michael Arnold: Absolutely, forming a relationship with the school in your community who’s trying to support and establish the next generation as the leaders that we need in our communities, in our churches, in our country, in our world.

Well, Dr. Majeski, it’s been great having you with us today.

Mark Majeski: Thank you so much, Michael. God bless you.

A native of New Jersey, Dr. Majeski moved to Florida in 2014. Currently, Dr. Mark (as people call him) is the Associate Superintendent of Schools for the Diocese of St. Petersburg. He has spent the last 40+ years in education in many capacities. He has taught kindergarten grade through university students, worked as a principal, district administrator, and provided professional development on a local, regional, and national level. In addition to his love of education he has also been a music director in Catholic churches since he was 17 years old. Dr. Majeski holds a B.A. from Montclair State University, MMEd from Westminster Choir College – Rider University, MA from Kean University, and an Ed.D from The University of Nebraska – Lincoln. He and his wife Tricia have three children, and two granddaughters.