Mark Suminski often saw potential where others didn’t. Whether improving the classroom experience for his students or making Halloween memorable for the children in his neighborhood, he found joy in the success and merriment of others.
These days, Olympic High School feels a major void.
Suminski, a teacher at the Santa Monica-Malibu school district’s continuation campus since 2007, died April 16 after a long battle with cancer. He was 60.
Funeral services will be held Friday, May 13, at St. Monica Catholic Church at 1:30 p.m.
As he taught U.S. and world history as well as career exploration and physical education, Suminski showed commitment to his students and aimed to inspire them to think about life after high school.
An animal lover and avid surfer, Suminski was diagnosed with multiple myeloma about four years ago.
“He was a big man on our campus,” Olympic High principal Anthony Fuller said, “and he will be truly missed.”
Seven years ago, Suminski ushered in technological upgrades through a district pilot program funded by Measure BB. After going through training, he integrated new visual and audio equipment into his classroom to help students engage with academic material.
“For me it’s harder, but that’s OK,” he told the Daily Press in 2009. It’s good because these kids live with electronics and they are totally tuned in.”
According to Fuller, who was named principal of Olympic High last year, Suminski was keenly aware of the lack of opportunities for students to learn vocational skills. He converted the school’s former kitchen into a functional workshop and created a shop class through which he taught students how to use power tools.
He introduced them to new disciplines, including framing and drywall application. With his guidance, they made skateboard decks and lamps, among other personal projects.
“Nobody ever thought to show them they could make something,” Fuller said. “And he was talking about this all at a time when … everybody was abandoning vocational ed.”
Suminski, a longtime Venice resident, attended UCLA, according to his Facebook profile. He taught fourth grade at Saint Mark School before arriving at Olympic High, Fuller said.
“He had a total affinity for these students,” the principal said. “He felt that these kids were him growing up.”
Suminski’s selflessness transcended the classroom. According to an archived Venice newsletter, he spearheaded an effort to make Halloween more fun for the children on Rialto Avenue and throughout his neighborhood.
Candy was only the beginning. He made a fake gravestone and crouched behind it, spooking trick-or-treaters. He built a large guillotine. He crafted a massive smoke-breathing dragon. Area elementary school students, parents, residents and local police officers got in on the action over the years.
“Our neighborhood has become so tight-knit,” Suminski said at the time. “Halloween has become such a community kind of project. I couldn’t have done it alone.
“I wish it was the only thing I had to do in this world. I have no children myself, so … I give them all I’ve got.”