Park High School in Cottage Grove and Hill-Murray School in Maplewood staged two very different 1920s-era stories to capture top honors at the 2015 State One-Act Play Festival in St. Paul on Feb. 13.

The schools were among eight in Class AA to perform at the event, which was held at the O’Shaughnessy at St. Catherine University and sponsored by the Minnesota State High School League. Five schools, including Park and Hill-Murray, earned the top rating of “starred performances.”

The annual festival draws one school from each of the state’s eight sections, but does not involve direct competition, a high school league news release said. Starred-performance ratings are determined by the judges’ private ballots.

Park, representing Section 3, performed “These Shining Lives” by Melanie Marnich, a play telling the story of women who suffered radium poisoning while working at a watch factory in the 1920s and 1930s. Hill-Murray, representing Section 4, presented “The Great Gatsby,” Simon Levy’s adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel — a play that the high school league said brings the “breathtaking glamour and decadent excess of the Jazz Age” to the stage.

Park has made 10 state festival appearances, and earned nine starred-performance ratings, with the first coming in 1994.

Cast members for “These Shining Lives” were Leah Haliburton, Andrew Abdouch, Willow Stuart, Melody Armstrong, Kaitlyn Tufenk, Justin Hiemstra, Nathaniel Jensen, Ryan Zako, Grant Lindsey and Zac Gaulke. Crew members were Kaitlyn Matzcynski, Alyssa Volmer-Johnson, Natalie Johnson, Danielle Lewis, Maddie Nelson and Katelyn Quast.

The play was directed by Denise Atkinson and Steve Estenson.

Hill-Murray has made seven festival appearances, and earned five starred-performance ratings, with the earliest being in 1993.

Cast members for “The Great Gatsby” were Griffin Egan, Sally Franco, Jack Blaney, Riley Petty, Elyse Youngdahl, Nick Shaw, Jake Miller, Ella Dostal, Abby Vakulskas, Justin Mackey, Mikayla Mariano, Elizabeth Schaan, Grace Nelson, William Sutherland, Henry Koller and Charlie Orloske. Crew members were Meghan Callaghan, Luke Adamsky, Lauren Lochen and Michaela Lochen.

The play was directed by Ben Ballentine.

Each cast and crew member in the starred performances receives a recognition pin, the league said.


Junior high principal receives statewide honor

Since taking the helm as Stillwater Junior High principal in 2010, Chuck Ochocki has worked to build special connections with students, staff and parents, and that personal touch has now earned him state recognition.

He was named recently as the 2015 Middle Level Principal of the Year by the Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals.

“He just ‘gets’ kids,” science teacher Chris Mentz said in a school district news release. “Most of the time you won’t find him in the office. He’s out in the building interacting with someone. It’s that ability to build relationships that sets him apart from other administrators.”

Ochocki, 43, of St. Paul, is a former high school social studies teacher who also served two years as assistant principal at Stillwater Junior High. During his tenure, he has implemented an ambassadors program to help new students connect with their peers, and started a Saturday morning parent group, among other relationship-building activities.

“He recognizes the good in students, even the troublemakers,” ninth-grader Annabel Greggs was quoted as saying. “He definitely comes off as someone giving advice and helping them. He’s not just punishing them. He’s someone you look up to and want to be like.”

Anthony Lonetree