ELLSWORTH – Mark Matzek is a familiar face on the wrestling mat as the Ellsworth High School head wrestling coach. While he will continue coaching, he’s trading in his math classroom at EHS for the school administrator’s office at St. Francis School.
Matzek officially began his new role on Monday, Jan. 16. Mary Cormican, who held the position for one year, announced her departure for personal reasons right before the school year started.
Matzek, a 2001 EHS graduate, credits the St. Francis School staff for maintaining a solid foundation while operating without an administrator.
“The exceptional staff here and Amy Matzek as the administrative assistant have been performing many roles the admin should be doing,” Matzek said. “Some past teachers have come in to help out, including Bev Miller and Kathy Swanson.”
St. Francis is dear to Matzek; he went to school there through sixth grade. He was raised on a dairy farm west of town with six siblings. After high school, he attended Augsburg College where he earned a degree in mathematics and education.
“I initially didn’t know I wanted to be a teacher but through some coaching experiences early in my college career, I fell in love with coaching and working with young people,” Matzek wrote in a letter to St. Francis parents.
He and wife Jessica moved back to Ellsworth in 2014, at which time he became a math teacher at Ellsworth Middle School and a high school wrestling coach. They have two children, Natalie and Alton. Matzek also has a Master’s degree in organizational management from Concordia St. Paul.
When asked about the leap from teaching to administration, Matzek said he always bases major life decisions on his gut feelings.
“When I told Father (Olson) that, he said ‘We call that the Spirit,’” Matzek laughed. “After Mrs. Cormican left, I felt drawn to make the move here and it became stronger and stronger as the year progressed. It wasn’t an easy decision because I enjoy teaching math at the high school. I enjoy the kids, the people I work with to the administration. We have really good people, so it was hard for me to leave that. I just felt like there was this opening here, and I have the qualifications and the motivation to take on this role and build this place and expand.”
As Matzek looked out the door of his new office, he joked that he was “back in the principal’s office.” He believes St. Francis School is an important fixture in the Ellsworth community and worth investing in.
“We may not be able to fix all the problems in the world, but we can influence the small community that we live in,” Matzek said. “As a parent, I want to prepare my children for the challenges they’re going to face in the secular world.”
Matzek considers Father Olson, the parish priest, a strong leader. They share a vision of bringing sixth grade back to the school, which is currently home to grades 3YK-5, and eventually expanding to a full middle school.
“If we can have a strong leader at the school to go along with his guidance, we’ll be able to grow the number of students,” Matzek said. “There hasn’t been consistency and stability in the school administrator’s office. I don’t blame people for being apprehensive in committing to the school. I plan on being here for a long time. My eight years at the middle school has proven to me that it’s the most overlooked age group in the school system, but they can also be some of the most influential years of their lives.”
St. Francis will celebrate Catholic Schools Week Jan. 29 through Feb. 4. Families interested in learning more about St. Francis are encouraged to attend an open house 9-10 a.m. or 11:30 to 1 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 29. They can meet staff, talk to St. Francis parents and tour the school.
“You don’t need to be Catholic to attend St. Francis School,” Matzek said. “All are welcome. If you want a faith-based educational experience or a smaller school experience, smaller class sizes or a more intimate setting. It’s a different experience.”
St. Francis also provides tuition assistance to families in need. Registration for next year starts at the end of January for 3YK-5.
In his letter to parents, Matzek quote a passage from one of his favorite books, Tuesdays with Morrie, that he attempts to live his life by: “The way to get meaning in your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”