St. Mary Academy Forges Into Future

New Principal Leads Way at Manahawkin School
By DAVID BIGGY | Sep 04, 2019
Photo by: Supplied photo PRINCIPAL’S OFFICE: Lizanne Coyne has led the way for many changes and improvements to the St. Mary Academy campus and enhancements to the curriculum.

Stafford Township — Good thing she used to be a soccer player. Since late June, Lizanne Coyne has been running at full steam.

“I haven’t had too much sleep since my arrival,” said St. Mary Academy’s new principal, whose fully rebranded and improved school building opened for its first day, Wednesday, Sept. 4. “My son and I moved down here, and a few days later I got right to work. We haven’t been to the beach as much as I had hoped, but that’s OK. A lot of big things are happening here and I know there will be some time off to relax a bit later.”

During the past two months, Coyne has been working alongside Monsignor Ken Tuzeneu, school staff and several of St. Mary’s parishioners to make a lot of internal changes, infrastructure upgrades and, most importantly, educational improvements.

“When All Saints was closed, everything was cleared out and I really had a clean slate to work with,” Coyne said. “I had a blank canvas, a tremendous opportunity to come in with a different lens. And through a bunch of collaborative efforts, we decided on some things about the building, and figured out the vision to make this a new home for the students.”

With that blank canvas on which to work, one of the first things ironed out involved redeveloping the mission of the school. The new St. Mary Academy mission is simple: “a place where children learn, grow, love and serve” – of course, learning and growing to coincide with the educational environment, and loving and serving are the hallmarks of their faith as disciples of Jesus Christ.

“During the conversations I had with others when I arrived, that really was the theme here,” Coyne said. “There’s a legacy here that we want to continue in a new light, and it completely goes along with our faith. With the backing of the parish and our community, we can make St. Mary Academy into one of the most prestigious Catholic schools in the region.”

So, for two months now, the school building and grounds have undergone some makeovers and touchups, the curriculum has gone through some retooling, and the spaces within this educational environment have been altered to reflect an institution engaging in a subtle but significant growth process.

Among the changes are improved security and safety measures: removing some trees and shrubs that for years were blocking and covering windows along a wing of the building; restructuring the electrical system in the seventh/eighth-grade math and science center; adding fencing in certain areas around the school as well as making some of the existing fencing higher, to name a few.

The school chapel has been refurbished with the help of Bob Mickiewicz, known to Coyne as “Bob the Builder,” who voluntarily designed and constructed several of the new wooden elements, including the Bible stand and a cross for the wall. The chapel also got new flooring and was repainted.

“I love this school, so whatever is best for the school, I’m all for it,” said Mickiewicz, an 84-year-old retired carpenter who moved to the Beach Haven West section of Stafford Township in 2002. “I’ll do whatever I can to help the school. I really like what I see so far.”

Additionally, several of the outdoor spaces have been updated. The aforementioned outdoor space along one wing of the building now will be an outdoor learning space. With an existing fish pond already in place, tables and chairs soon will be added so teachers can use it for a fresh-air learning environment. Another area outside another wing of the building will be enhanced as an environmental science space, complete with an improved greenhouse.

“We will be writing a proposal for a grant so we can make improvements to the outdoor spaces and improve our garden spaces and greenhouse,” Coyne said. “We’re making a lot of changes that most people won’t see, but we have some really great spaces inside and outside the school that will be transformed for better utilization.”

One such addition is the “Knights Outdoor Cafe,” where tables and chairs will be added to a space outside the gymnasium, which doubles as the student cafeteria. The improved outdoor space will give the school’s eighth-graders a place all their own during lunchtime, and also will function as additional learning space teachers may employ.

Perhaps the most prominent change to the building was restructuring several rooms for specific purposes.

“We have dedicated four specific spaces named for the parishes that have been major contributors to our school,” Coyne said. “I felt it was important to create those spaces to honor their continued commitments to St. Mary Academy, and really generate an understanding of the connection we have with them within our community.”

The idea brought forth the St. Francis Meeting Center, St. Pius X Wrestling Center, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Center and St. Theresa Center.

The St. Francis Meeting Center is exactly what it’s called, a meeting location for the sending parish pastors, PTA, and anybody else requiring a place to discuss, brainstorm and plan. The St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Center will be the new STREAM space for pre-kindergarteners ages 3 and 4. The St. Theresa Center will be a new greenscreen space, a room students may use for their creative abilities in generating video for both the internet and television. The St. Pius X Wrestling Center is for the new wrestling program for students in grades 1 through 8, complete with a corporate-sponsored wrestling mat with the school’s new Knights logo.

“We’re really excited about these new spaces,” Coyne said. “In a lot of ways, we’re a new school starting from scratch, and that opened the doors for us to make many enhancements to our programs. We want to teach the whole child and appeal to more children and their vast interests. Obviously, the fundamentals of learning in our school aren’t changing, but we want to prepare children for life outside the school as much as we can.”

In that sense, the new math and sciences teacher and re-tailored science curriculum should be a benefit, as well as the new Spanish teacher and the World Cultures and Geography curriculum, among other programs funneled into the system. Character development will remain a focal point of St. Mary Academy, as it was with its predecessor.

“I believe in modeling the behaviors we expect from our students, and morning prayer is going to be highly encouraged,” Coyne said. “But we’re going to have fun here as well. Every day will have a different theme: Math Fact Monday, Trivia Tuesday, Wordy Wednesday, Thoughtful Thursday and Fun Fact Friday. We’re not just rebranding, but we’re also changing the culture here. And even though we’re tightening up security, which is important in this day and age, we’re not going to lose that warm, friendly environment which exists in our Catholic school setting.”

Not surprising, that warm and friendly environment should be evident as soon as visitors enter the redecorated “Monsignor Ken Welcome Center” – an homage to the congenial, humorous man largely responsible for the changes taking place. And, yes, a knight will greet you at the door.

“I’ve never had anything named after me, so I suppose that’s really wonderful – and makes me wonder if Ms. Coyne has spoken with my doctor!” Tuzeneu said with a laugh.

“Seriously, things have been moving along better than I expected. The biggest change here is the atmosphere, the enthusiasm and excitement. Obviously, we’re building on the past, but it’s fun to take things in a new direction. Lizanne has been a blessing to us. God puts people where they need to be at the right time, and that’s why she’s here. She has the skill set, knowledge and energy we need to pull off this transition and develop the school further.”

As of Labor Day weekend, St. Mary Academy had 36 new families connected to it, and was scheduled to open with 172 students. A parish and school picnic to celebrate the school’s new direction is slated for Sunday, Sept. 8. Bishop David O’Connell will join the festivities by leading Mass at St. Mary of the Pines on Saturday, Sept. 7, at 4 p.m.

“We’re all excited to start this new journey,” Coyne said. “We’ve been blessed with so many great opportunities for this amazing school, and I can’t wait to open the doors on Wednesday.”

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