By Jeff Miller
Special to The Texas Catholic
PLANO — Students and teachers who arrived for the first day of classes at John Paul II High School in the fall of 2005 look back now and often use the word adventure to describe the experiences of the first days on campus at the northeast corner of Coit Road and West Plano Parkway.
As the school prepares to celebrate its 15th anniversary celebration, that feeling of excitement has morphed into satisfaction and accomplishment.
“Those kids graduated and came back and told us how prepared they were for college,” said Eugenia Jameson, who’s been teaching government classes at JPII for all 15 years. “It gave us such a sense of validation.”
A commemorative Mass will be held on Jan. 29 at the school whose motto is “Seek to Serve” with Auxiliary Bishop Greg Kelly presiding.
“This is a very special year in the history of John Paul II High School. It is a year to thank all of those, past and present, who have contributed to the success of our wonderful school. It is a time to celebrate all of our graduates, who today, are making a difference in the world by following in the footsteps of our patron, Pope St. John Paul II,” said Jake Schroepfer, president of JPII. “It is also an occasion to look to our bright future as we continue to serve one of the fastest growing areas in the United States.”
That first year, JPII welcomed 301 students in grades 9-11 occupying half of the current building. “We all ate in the dining hall together,” Jameson recalled. “We’re not doing that anymore.” Not with a 9-12 enrollment of about 700. The faculty and staff have increased from 40 to 188.
“What stands out about JPII more than anywhere else that I’ve taught is the sense of family,” said Michael Browning, who has been the school’s head band director since its opening. “Because it is a smaller environment than the public schools, everybody knows each other. You don’t see this clique or this group that always runs around together. They all kind of hang out together, and they kind of go through our school as a team.”
Nick Schiele admits that he was far from enthused when his family returned to Plano in 2005 following five years in New Hampshire and enrolled him at John Paul II as a sophomore.
After all, the multi-sport athlete’s previous Catholic high school had produced multiple state championship teams the previous year.
It apparently didn’t take Schiele long to get comfortable in new surroundings, in part because everyone was doing that in some fashion.
“One of my favorite things was how kids bonded together in those early years,” he said.
Schiele returned to John Paul II in 2012 after graduating from LSU and has been part of the English and athletic departments. He now sits in faculty and staff meetings with some of his teachers from 15 years ago.
“Now we’re peers,” he said. “It’s really been fun getting to know those people better.”
Teachers and former students praise the job done by Thomas Poore, who served as JPII’s president from its founding to his retirement in the summer of 2017.
“He is the only guy I know that could have made the thing go,” Browning said. “Tom Poore is one of the most detail-oriented people I’ve ever worked for and had an amazing intuition into what was going to happen or how we were going to deal with it.”
Jameson recalled how excited students were when Poore presented them with “presidential pencils” for good deeds done across campus, no matter how small. She said some students, when compiling their resumes and recommendation letters for college, would cite the pencils among their achievements.
“He led in a way you knew things were going to be OK,” Jameson said.