MT. VERNON —
MT. VERNON – Newly hired superintendent Mark Zahm has an ambitious agenda for his first few years at Summersville Grade School.
But with the staff and school board's support, he's optimistic that significant progress will be made.
Zahm's main goals include upgrading the district's technology, adapting to new state testing requirements, and setting up a foundation for tax-deductible donations.
“I'm very pleased,” said Zahm, who officially started July 1. “I have a great staff. It's a great learning environment, since this is my first job as a superintendent.”
Zahm was hired to replace former Summersville superintendent Anita Hays, who retired June 30 after four years in the position.
The Summersville District 79 Board of Education evaluated about 10 applicants and interviewed four finalists for Hays' replacement.
Zahm stood out from the rest with his educational experience and approach to the job, said Randy Steele, the school board president.
“He brings a great amount of experience and professionalism to our school district,” Steele said. “He has a real heart for seeing the school test scores go up and for every student to have what they need. … He brought a new perspective, especially on the technology side.”
One of Zahm's chief priorities is to enhance technology at Summersville Grade School so that all students can take certain state tests online.
The infrastructure is in place to meet this requirement, but now the district has to purchase computers, keyboards, and additional hardware. Title 1 funding should help pay for this, Zahm said.
Student test scores are another area of concern. The Illinois Standard Achievement Test was recently made more difficult, which has resulted in lower test scores for Summersville, Zahm said.
This means more students require specialized help, which can put a strain on the district's resources, Zahm said.
At this point, 30 to 50 Summersville students are receiving specialized training two to three days a week to help them improve their academic performance, Zahm said.
“I don't know if the powers that be realize (that when) you make the test harder, it's more of a strain on us,” Zahm said.
Zahm grew up in Tuscola and graduated from Eastern Illinois University. From early on, he was pursuing a career in education.
“I had some great teachers in high school and in athletics. They encouraged me,” Zahm said. “Plan A has always been education. There's no Plan B.”
He started off in education as a teacher's aide at Mt. Vernon Township High School. Then he taught at MVTHS for five years.
After that, Zahm spent six years as a principal at Woodlawn High School. He was then a principal at two schools in West Frankfort.
“It's been a great career. I have no complaints,” Zahm said.