In-Depth: History of MHS
April 18, 2018
The year was 1993, a year of changes: Kurt Cobain’s death, the bombing of the World Trade Center and the Missouri Great Flood of 1993.
Another change also was coming to the city of Chesterfield: the building of a new high school.
As a result of the 1991 $65 million bond issue program, RSD made Missouri history and began building two new high schools, Rockwood Summit and MHS, and two new middle schools, becoming the fastest-growing school district. Twenty-five years ago MHS, built on the grounds of a farm for $20.5 million, opened initially to serve 1,000 freshmen and sophomores.
However, the Great Flood of ‘93 hindered the construction of the school for several months due to the breach of Chesterfield Valley levies that also flooded many businesses and homes up to 10 feet.
Superintendent Dr. Eric Knost said seeing MHS as an iron structure months before opening is an image he’ll never forget. Despite the school ultimately opening in the fall of 1993, many were doubtful it would open on time.
“I remember going over during the very end of the previous school year in 1993 and the school was still just an iron structure,” Dr. Knost said. “Over the three months in the summer, they had to work hard to get the school open.”
Fortunately, on Sept. 1, 38 students from MHS, their families and friends gave up their last three days of summer break to help clean up the mess left behind by the flood, which allowed the school to open as scheduled.
Dr. Knost said the feeling of walking through school on the first day, Sept. 7, as the first band teacher is a difficult feeling to explain. He said the school was new, big and fresh, and he felt inspired to work in such an exciting environment.
“It was all positive,” Dr. Knost said. “We loved the place, we thought it was beautiful and we were just thrilled to be there.”
Fifteen months earlier, the Marquette High School Colors/Mascot Committee first met on May 12, 1992. The committee had narrowed down the potential mascots to the Cavaliers, Hornets, Mavericks, Mustangs and Trailblazers.
Seventh and eighth graders from Selvidge and Crestview, who would soon go to MHS, voted on the school name, mascot, and the navy blue, kelly green and white school colors – and with that, a legacy was built.
While the students developed traditions and grew their friendships that first year, their population quickly outgrew the school’s initial size. Only three years after the school opened, the school placed four trailers, portable classrooms, in the front of the school to hold the large student population. Within five year, 14 additional classrooms would be added to the second and third floors.
Dr. Knost said the most important aspect about the school to Dr. Knost was the students.
Dr. Knost came to MHS as a band teacher, and ended up being named the very first Teacher of the Year. He said he was honored to even be nominated for the award among all of the other exceptional teachers.
“That was the highlight of my career,” Dr. Knost said. “I’ve been in education for 30 years, and I still wear the ring on my finger I got from being Teacher of the Year.”
Dr. Knost began his career as an elementary band director at Westridge Elementary School, Ballwin Elementary School, Ellisville Elementary School and Woerther Elementary School.
Dr. Knost taught some students as fifth graders and sixth graders, but each year, his teaching assignments would change. The vast majority of the kids he taught in fifth and sixth grade continued on to be taught by him in Selvidge Middle School. From there, he continued teaching the Selvidge students after transferring to MHS.
“I had this cohort of students that I had from fifth grade all the way until they graduated,” Dr. Knost said. “It wasn’t like I was going to work and the new building came with all these new students, so that was just extra special and to be able to have that familiarity with the brand new school was just really neat.”
Dr. Dan Deschamp was the first principal of MHS for eight years and said when he found out about the initial plans in 1991, that he was excited to allow students and faculty to shape the school and make it their own.
“It was probably the most satisfying experience about my career,” Dr. Deschamp said. “Not many people get to start a high school.”
The most important vision of MHS, Dr. Deschamp said, was having a high school that was inviting and allowed everyone to develop their own path.
However, achieving this vision was not without obstacles, Dr. Deschamp said. Since LHS was so respected, it was hard trying to break away and create a school that students felt would set them up to do well in the future.
“Creating a spirit of excitement about coming to a new high school was a challenge,” Dr. Deschamp said.
Dr. Deschamp said it was also a battle trying to obtain the resources needed to build and develop MHS because opening four new schools at once was not cheap.
Incoming sophomores who went to Crestview had a choice to attend LHS or MHS, Dr. Deschamp said. However, this was not taken advantage of much.
As MHS opened, Dr. Deschamp said, the students were always positive and eager to build something without anyone setting the status quo before them.
“They were sort of instant stars,” Dr. Deschamp said. “They took over all the leadership roles…and I think that helped them have a very special ownership for it.”
Lisa Kaczmarczyk, former MHS principal and current substitute principal, has been with MHS since the very beginning.
The summer before MHS opened, an advisory group of students put together by Dr. Deschamp brought future faculty and students together from Crestview and Selvidge to have a big meeting at Bluebird Park.
“I had taught 13 years at Crestview with seventh, eighth and ninth graders, so when I came to high school, I knew that the pressure was on because I would have to teach ninth, tenth and, eventually, juniors and seniors,” Kaczmarczyk said. “I was really excited, but I was also nervous.”
Kaczmarczyk began her journey in RSD as a choir teacher at Crestview Middle School in 1980. From Crestview, Kaczmarczyk came to MHS as a choir teacher in 1993, where she became assistant principal in 1995 and associate principal in 2007. This year she filled in for 8 weeks for Senior Principal Carl Hudson.
Kaczmarczyk said returning was a no-brainer because she’s always willing to help the school in whatever ways she can. She wants to help keep the school consistent.
“I’m back because I love this place. I love Marquette,” Kaczmarczyk said. “The staff, the atmosphere, the students, has a very special place in my heart. It’s kind of like riding a bike. You just get back on.”
Kaczmarczyk said MHS has been a student-centered school since the beginning. The biggest changes she has noticed are the additions to the original building and the use of technology through Chromebooks.
“As far as the overall student body staff, the reach for academic, athletic and activity excellence has always been Marquette’s focus,” Kaczmarczyk said.
Kaczmarczyk is most proud of students and their acceptance of all kids. She is also proud of the motivation in both teachers and students.
“Not just tolerance, but acceptance of all students, and helpfulness, and caring,” Kaczmarczyk said. “The Dazzlers dance team is a tangible example of what this student body is all about.”
Megan Hueseman Schacht, Class of ‘96 , said opening a new high school was a great experience because some of the teachers from Selvidge and Crestview came with them to work at MHS.
“It was nice to have a new facility and be part of that experience,” Schacht said.
Starting all the first traditions, Schacht said, was the best part. While many of these firsts are still around, such as Mr. Mustang, some were kept in the past, such as the hockey cheerleading squad.
Schacht was in Teenage Health Consultants, a group which gave students a chance to counsel their peers in a variety of topics. She also was a hockey cheerleader, part of NHS and a member of Senior Women.
“At Marquette I had top quality teachers and top notch resources, materials and curriculum,” Schacht said.
Schacht said she stays in touch with many of her high school friends through Facebook and get-togethers, and therefore keeps her connection to the school alive.
Armon McWell, Class of ‘96 , was involved in as many activities as he could. He played as running back and quarterback for the football team; ran track; had a part in the school musical, “Bye Bye Birdie”; and was on STUCO. He also was on color and winter guard.
“You name it, I just about did everything at that school,” McWell said.
McWell said the unusual combination of being on the football team and guard was sort of like a leap of faith, which turned out as one of the best experiences in high school.
“We all were in it together,” McWell said. “We were trying to build the tradition and have fun in the school, all together. That’s what made Marquette so amazing.”
Even though he had to leave his friends from LHS behind, McWell said, he soon realized the honor of being in the first graduating class.
“I looked at the opportunity to be the first of just making history in everything that we did,” McWell said.
The best part was the unity of the whole class, McWell said.
“The pride that we have for being the first and the responsibility… is just amazing,” McWell said.
Neil Smith, Class of ‘96, transferred to MHS from Saint Louis University High School and joined the first graduating class. He said all of the teachers were extremely enthusiastic about the school when he first came.
At MHS, Smith took a Creative Writing class where the teacher, Carol Brandt, brought in local writers to talk to the class. He loved the freedom of the class and the experience of learning.
“She pretty much had a class format with pretty much no rules,” Smith said. “The best memory I have of the school is going up during the Creative Writing class near the stage and just working on things up there during class.”
Smith said the Internet was a new concept when he was in high school. He said the school made an effort to allow students to explore computer technology.
“The teachers were really willing to just try experimental things,” Smith said. “Most of the teachers were really young and new, and even some of the older ones were really innovative in the ways they teach.”
Smith said he enjoys seeing MHS in the news and is excited to see the school winning sports championships as well as performing well academically.
“It’s really enjoyable to see what you guys are doing now because we all feel like we have a connection to you guys,” Smith said. “Keep up the good work.”
During the first year of MHS, Kimberly Hotze, German teacher, introduced the new school not only to incoming students but also to students from Germany. This was part of an exchange program where students from Germany came to MHS for three weeks and later MHS students visited Germany.
“I hadn’t planned on the very first year of Marquette being a year that we did that because everything was new,” Hotze said.
However, as another school had to cancel last minute, MHS took on the German exchange, Hotze said, because the German students had anticipated the trip for so long.
“It gave the kids a great opportunity to really live in the language,” Hozte said.
Hotze said, typically, only students enrolled in second or higher level German could do the exchange, but because it was the first year of MHS, there was a small number of students who were able to go. Thus, she made an exception and allowed a first-level sophomore who had a passion for the language participate.
“His German improved so much, he was able to skip a whole level before the next school year started,” Hotze said.
Hotze said, now, a similar program is done through the whole district rather than individual schools that is much shorter because students are not as available during the summer.
Gail Barth, former language arts teacher, taught for 20 years and advised the yearbook for MHS’ first six years. She said, it was great to be a part of a school from ground up.
Although, when she first arrived, only few days before the school opened, her classroom had not yet been set up and there were no desks. The teachers also had nowhere to park so they got shuttled in with school buses. Nevertheless, MHS turned out much better than she ever expected.
“I always thought that I had fun teaching my entire career,” Barth said. “But I think probably that first year was the most fun I’ve ever had.”
Her goal was to establish the yearbook and help the school grow.
“I knew that the first statement that we made, the first yearbook, would be something everybody would remember,” Barth said. “It was pretty big responsibility.”
Due to the initially small size of the school, Barth said the faculty and students knew each other, even if the teacher didn’t have all the students in their class. Yet, the yearbook themed “From Ground Up” developed into a great keepsake.
“We all kind of bonded and that’s not a bond you ever get again in a school,” Barth said. “It’s a very unique situation.”
Principal Dr. Greg Mathison has been at MHS for the last 11 years. He was assistant principal for three years before becoming head principal eight years ago. In 2000, he taught math for a semester.
Many traditions, such as Senior Farewell, Taste of Marquette and Wacky Olympics, have always been a part of MHS, Dr. Mathison said. However, many also have been added, like the Homecoming Bonfire, pep-assemblies and dodgeball tournaments.
“We try to be excellent in all areas, whether that’s academics or at extracurriculars,” Dr. Mathison said.
While the core values have remained the same since the beginning, Dr. Mathison said, thoughts have shifted and grown to be more inclusive and give all students opportunities to grow.
“We build upon the legacy and the traditions of others and we make it better,” Dr. Mathison said. “[All the other classes before] have all built Marquette to be the great school that we are today, so we can never forget our history, but we should always continue to look forward to our future.”
Before coming to MHS, Dr. Mathison attended, taught and coached at LHS. However, when he arrived, he noticed the environment was relaxed and open.
“Our students have a lot of freedoms that they’ve earned and that we also give them,” Dr. Mathison said. “It’s an encouraging, open environment to help students thrive.”
Every year, Dr. Mathison looks forward to graduation night. He said the significance lies in looking out at all the seniors and their supporters, opening just a sliver into what their life has been throughout high school.
The night is not much about parting ways with the senior, Dr. Mathison said, but more about reflecting on their hard work over the last four years of their lives.
“It’s just such a special moment to see all the work each individual person, every individual story that went into that, every person that poured their lives into that student to get there,” Dr. Mathison said. “To me, that’s a very powerful moment because that’s why we’re here.”
RSD is developing a new district-wide program, “Welcome Home Rockwood,” which will work to encourage students to think about a career as an educator, help them get involved and give them a chance after college to come back to teach at Rockwood.
Dr. Mathison is part of the committee developing this program. He said in the next few years, a large number of educators will retire, leaving a large job opening.
“We need to be proactive in seeking out people to teach,” Dr. Mathison said.
The program will try to increase access to more one-on-one student-teacher time as well as possibilities for counselors to talk more about students’ careers, to help students find a way to get involved in the field early.
“We are also looking into how we also encourage people with different and diverse backgrounds,” Dr. Mathison said. “Making sure that our staff population reflects the student population.”
Art teacher Kenzie McKeon, Class of ‘10, came back this year to teach.
Although she enjoyed gaining the new experience teaching at Fort Zumwalt South for her first two years, she said she came back because MHS feels like home.
“I feel like I have more of a connection to this school,” McKeon said. “I can get more excited about things going on around the school because I’m an alumni.”
McKeon said MHS has relatively stayed the same, including some of her teachers from her years as a student and crowded hallways. However, the generation of students varies a lot due to the growth of technology.
“There is not a huge difference, the change [is] in generations and the behavior changes,” McKeon said. “High schoolers are kind of always the same.”
As a student, McKeon loved school and was excited to start high school after going to Crestview Middle School, though she was overwhelmed by the grand size of the school.
“I’m sure incoming freshmen still feel that way about how big and crowded it actually is,” McKeon said.
McKeon said her favorite part about MHS is the amount of opportunities it offers to students and wide variety of classes. She enjoyed taking a lot of art classes as well as being a part of Mystique.
“I just liked being a part of school activities,” McKeon said. “I liked being a part of the social aspect of it as well as the classes.”
When it comes to “Welcome Home Rockwood”, McKeon said this program will raise school spirit because it will increase the amount of teachers with more passion and ties to not only the school, but the district as well.
“Rockwood produces really great students because we have such high caliber teachers here,” McKeon said.
However, McKeon said the experience she gained at teaching at a different school made her appreciate MHS more.
Claire Jones, sophomore, had always known she wanted to be a teacher. When she was in elementary school, Jones would take papers from the recycle bin in order to hold classes in her basement to teach lessons to friends.
Jones loves interacting with kids, and said teaching is something she has truly always enjoyed doing.
“They’re the next generation, so it’d be amazing if I had an influence on how the next generation would turn out and shape,” Jones said.
Her experience at MHS has helped her pursuit of becoming a teacher through opportunities such as teacher aids and seniors serving as a teacher aid outside of the building in the elementary schools.
Jones said she loves the idea of a program helping to bring back students to teach in RSD because Jones hopes to work at Ballwin Elementary School in the future.
“I went to Ballwin, and I think it would be super cool to teach at somewhere I graduated from, so I’m definitely in favor of the program,” Jones said. “It would be amazing.”
Jones said she the program will help encourage more students to be interested in teaching in the future, and break stereotypes associated with teaching children.
“They don’t look at how much fun you could have or the impact you’re making on the kids’ lives, and what impact they’re making on your life,” Jones said. “It could totally change you and I feel like if students were able to see that, more people would want to be a teacher.”