New Principal Joins Sacred Heart School

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Gillis Says he is a 'Steward of the Common Good'

By Lisa Tetrault-Zhe

Hampton Union, Tuesday, August 30, 2011

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

HAMPTON -- A career as an educator at private schools has led Mark Gillis to become Sacred Heart School's newest principal. Students and parents will get a chance to meet him today, Aug. 30, the first day of school.

Gillis joined the school, which serves preschool through eighth-grade students, in July. Over the course of his career he has progressively worked with younger children. For 20 years he was a professor at College of Saint Mary Magdalen in Warner. Then, last year, he served as interim dean of faculty and academics at Holy Family Academy, a high school in Manchester.

"I'm thrilled to be here. ... I've always loved working with young people," Gillis said of his latest assignment. "Their hearts are wide open; they're capable of such joy and wonder. They're good at forgetting about the bad things. They're great at relationships, they're not self-absorbed. Kids are teachers in that sense."

Gillis replaces interim principal Maureen Cocchiaro.

Gillis has spent the past 15 summers as director of the Don Bosco Summer Camp for Boys in Concord, which he founded in 1997.

"At the beginning, it was just me, but as the camp grew, I had to become more of an administrator, hiring and supervising counselors," Gillis said. "I named the camp after Don Bosco, a saint from Italy who helped young boys, steering them back on track."

Being able to have an effect on students at a young age is crucial to helping them flourish as adults, according to Gillis.

"The beginning is crucial," he said. "A lot of kids flounder in high school because of their early years. It can be intellectually, socially, morally, or just some bad experience or maybe an unhealthy culture. What happens in their classrooms and hallways is important, but what happens on the bus or online can have even more of an impact."

One approach Gillis will bring to the school is to celebrate the students' differences.

"By nature, everybody loves to learn," Gillis said. "Sometimes at school, that can be squelched. Often it's a social issue, students are embarrassed to love poetry or classical music. We need to focus on a spirit of kindness and respect."

According to Gillis, the academic aspect of SHS will remain as strong as ever. He cites that many of the school's graduates go on to St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Dover or Phillips Exeter Academy, and later receive college scholarships.

Parents and students, however, will see some changes this year in other areas, including a larger chapel, an enhanced music program and possibly a choir, and an adventure Bible study for both students and parents. He also hopes to get the school more involved in the community, participating in events such as the annual Hampton Art Walk this fall.

"As the principal, I'm a steward of the common good," Gillis said. "I'm here to serve the students, providing a culture that's most conducive to students flourishing."

"It feels like things are coming together at once. I've always wanted to go into administration, to steer the ship. It takes a team, of course, but I want to help steer the teachers in a good direction. I've always had a desire to have a vision for a school."

As an alumnus of Magdalen College, Gillis holds a bachelor of arts degree in liberal arts. He also holds a master's degree in education and administration from Boston College and is working on a master's degree in theology from the Augustine Institute in Denver. He and his wife, Catherine, have three children: Cecilia, Thomas and Patrick.

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