Jefferson Elementary bids farewell to principal Mark Cook

Monday, May 7, 2012
Crystal Sandridge and her children Taj, bottom, and Demetrius Rayford speak with retiring Jefferson School principal Mark Cook Sunday, May 6, 2012 during Cook's retirement celebration at the school. Cook is retiring as principal and has been on staff at Jefferson since 1997. (Laura Simon)

Just weeks before Jefferson Elementary School holds its final classes for the year, staff and friends held a retirement celebration for the institution's outgoing principal.

Mark Cook has spent 32 years as a teacher or administrator of elementary schools in Cape Girardeau. Over that time, the 57-year-old has made long-time friends and gained the respect of his peers, said Sandy Elfrink, his administrative assistant.

"I think what I'm proudest of is the professional community we built here at Jefferson Elementary School," Cook said. "I'm really proud of my staff."

Under his leadership, teachers focused on using data to make educational decisions, he said. Cook, who remains under contract until June 30, said data helped determine the most effective teaching techniques and best ways to keep students motivated and engaged in the classroom.

More than 60 friends, coworkers and students wedged into the school's library Sunday afternoon to share their well wishes for Cook.

"He brought humor to the job -- it really helped a lot," said Dianne Meyr, a former employee of the school. "He had a good outlook. When you're around children, humor and laughter are important."

Cook was a teacher at Franklin Elementary School before joining the staff at Jefferson as a Title 1 math teacher in 1997. The next year he was tapped for the principal position, where he remained 14 years. He earned his Master's in Education in 1988 and his Specialist in Education in 1994. In 2004 representatives of the U. S. Department of Education visited Jefferson Elementary and recognized the school for student achievement.

Cook was chosen a 2010 Chamber of Commerce Educator of the Year and a 2010 VFW Ladies Auxiliary Educator of the Year.

Cook's influence on the school might best be seen in the relationships he built between parents and staff and students and staff, Elfrink said.

"It's been a struggle, improving parent-staff communication," Elfrink said.

Cook said he's proud of the relationships he built with students' parents.

"He's worked very hard. There's a little sadness, because this staff's phenomenal," said Cook's wife, Lana. "This staff goes above and beyond others I've seen through the years."

Sunday's sendoff had the feel of a family celebration, which didn't surprise Tim Ward, a former coworker of Cook's from his time at Franklin.

"Franklin was a homey, neighborhood school. Franklin was the hub where all of us met and became family," Ward said. "This is like coming back to the family. It's going to be an adjustment for him not to be here."

Cook has also improved relationships between the school and other community leaders. Cape Community Church partners with the school and the Southeast Missouri Food Bank to provide and fill backpacks so hungry children will have food over the weekend. The church also gives gift bags to teachers, said Terri Noland.

"My daughter went here," Noland said. "He's just a wonderful person -- caring and compassionate for the children."

Cook said he's beginning to make plans for life after serving as a principal. In some capacity, he'd like to work with teachers who are doing their student teaching, he said.


Pertinent address:

520 S. Minnesota St., Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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