St. Mark the Evangelist School has undergone more than just a name change.
"We are combining the legacy of two great schools," said Tobias Harkleroad, co-principal of the new school.
Faced with declining enrollments and increasing deficits the Archdiocese of Washington approved the merger earlier this year, Harkleroad said. The schools are less than three miles apart, and both have been in operation for more than 50 years.
"This merger will allow us to have the time to refocus and pool resources," Harkleroad said.
This month the first phase of reorganization will get underway. All classes, from pre-K through eighth-grade, will be held at the Silver Spring campus. The Hyattsville location will be used for sporting events, including basketball games. Retreats and other meeting for students and staff will take place at the former St Mark School. Classes for grades five through eight will eventually move into the Hyattsville campus permanently for what Harkleroad called "a state of the art" middle school.
New uniforms and fresh paint are not the only changes at the newly- named school this academic year.
"As we look toward the future, the way we structure the curriculum will be very different," Harkleroad said. "St. Francis International will focus on an integrated approach to learning. We want the student to see a continuation in learning from year to year and at every grade level."
Teachers at St. Francis are very optimistic about the their new surroundings.
"Being here is a very positive change," said Mary Crane, a middle school language arts teacher. She taught at St. Mark's for six years.
In addition, she has twin boys transferring to the new campus. They started at St. Mark's and will enter the seventh-grade.
"We will have a more resources, and it will be better for the kids," she said.
John Sniegoski, a math instructor at St. Francis, admitted he will "really miss" going to St. Mark's everyday of the school year. Sniegoski not only taught middle school at St. Mark's, he attended the school as a child.
Long-time kindergarten teacher Patricia Brady agrees.
"It is very sad not to return to St. Mark this year," she said. "But it is great to have more faculty on hand here at St. Francis for all of our students."
Choosing the name for the combined schools was done with careful consideration.
"We did not want to pick one name over the other – either St. Camillus or St. Mark" Harkleroad said.
Enrollment at the Silver Spring location is expected to top 500 students when classes begin next week, nearly doubling the number of students in attendance last year at either one of the schools alone.
More than 70 percent of pupils have at least one parent who was born abroad, representing dozens of countries around the globe.
Harkleroad said St. Francis International is ready.
He said he had a huge number of volunteers over the summer who helped to get the former St. Camillus School in shape.
"Our school feels fresh, and it feels new," he said. "We are ready for the future."