Cindy Wilson photo/Telegraph-Journal

SJHS veteran school's new principal

by Bruce Bartlett - Friday, August 22, 2008

This article is courtesy of Telegraph-Journal

SAINT JOHN - Marijke Blok, a teacher who has spent 22 of her 23 years in the profession at Saint John High School, is now the principal at the school.

"It's very exciting and also a bit nerve wracking," she said recently. "I like to believe that's a good thing, because if I weren't nervous that would show I wasn't fully aware of the situation I was in."

She figures it gets her adrenaline going and helps her be on top of her game.

Blok, 47, was born in Holland but has lived most of her life in Saint John. She graduated from the now closed St. Vincent's High School in 1979 before pursuing her education degrees. Since then her only year away from Saint John High was spent at the District 8 school board office.

Many students remember Blok's classes fondly for her teaching style and she admits she will miss being in front of a class.

"It's the official district stance that principals of high schools should not teach but I am hoping, along the line, to slip some in," she said.

Looking back over previous SJHS principals, Blok mentions Dennis Knibb, who managed to teach three classes every term, but says it is unlikely she could ever match him and would be happy to share a class.

"English is still my passion, so I hope I will be able to fit that in," she said.

All Canadian schools are facing PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) testing in April and May 2009, which will focus on literacy, so Saint John High will work toward that, said Blok.

Another of her goals is to put in place ways to identify issues sooner when students are struggling, so the proper resources can be applied sooner.

"I'm not a somebody who believes a new broom should sweep clean - there is a lot of stuff at Saint John High that is very good," she said. "But every institution can improve."

Over the past month the school has received applications from students in China, Korea and England. Blok believes it is the International Baccalaureate Program that draws people from around the world.

It looks like the enrolment this year will be around 1,135, which is just about right for the facility, she said. The school has had up to 1,170, but that makes things tight.

Saint John High traces its roots back to 1805 with the founding of a local grammar school. The current building, completed in the 1930s, is undergoing some major repairs. Much of the exterior brick work is being repointed and the auditorium entrance on Duke Street is being rebuilt. Work will continue through September and October, mostly in the new wing, which should not be as disruptive, Blok said.

The auditorium, which at one time was the major performance space in the city, had all the seats removed and the floor refinished over the summer. The auditorium chairs were repaired before they were put back in place.

Blok's father was a Dutch sea captain who met her mother, a Saint John native, through a local church outreach program. They lived in Holland for almost two years, returning when Blok was about six months old.

Blok, who loves literature and music, claims with a twinkle in her eye that she plays the guitar badly but reads really well. She goes to many concerts and favours the genres of folk and older rock.

She has two dogs rescued from the pound. One is 16 and the other almost 11.