Educator Interview

Robin Fisher

Robin Fisher is principal of St. Regis Academy in Kansas City, Missouri.

Is your Catholic school independent, parochial, or diocesan?

St. Regis Academy is a diocesan school under The Diocese of Kansas City, St. Joseph.

 

 

What grades does your school serve?

St. Regis Academy serves scholars in grades Preschool – 8th Grade.      

 

 

What is your vision for your school? How do you think of your mission? What do you hope to accomplish?

 

By the Grace of God, St. Regis Academy seeks to be a locally recognized leader in graduating young men and women who are spiritually and academically prepared for a lifetime of discipleship.

St. Regis Academy, in partnership with parents as the primary educators of their children, seeks to provide a Catholic classical liberal arts education centered on Christ. We seek to cultivate an environment that fosters a student’s natural desire for truth, beauty, and goodness. St. Regis Academy prepares students to think critically, reason logically, articulate clearly, and engage others persuasively. Our enrollment includes racial, ethnic, and economic diversity within the Body of Christ, providing a wealth of opportunity for students to grow in virtue by pursuing spiritual, emotional, and academic excellence.

Our mission is the verbal articulation of who we as St. Regis Academy are. Our mission and vision were re-established to better reflect our classical, liberal arts curriculum when we made the transition three years ago. We often refer to our mission when thinking about big decisions and/or changes as it is the guide post to help us stay aligned and working in the same direction. Both our mission and vision statements really drive our Academy. These statements are the core of who we are and who we aim to be. We believe that all decisions and processes should be measured against these statements. 

 

How do your school’s culture and curriculum differ from government schools in your area? From other Catholic schools in your area?

 

St. Regis Academy is vastly different from surrounding government schools. At St. Regis, Christ is the center of who we are and all we do. He is the Golden Thread that helps us to integrate all of our curriculum. We aim to foster growth in our scholars spiritually, academically and emotionally.  In order to do so, Christ must be first and the center of all we do.

St. Regis also differs from other Catholic schools in our area for a few reasons. First, we have one of the highest percentages of non–Catholic scholars in our building. This is a privilege and a true gift from God to bring our children and their families closer to Him. Additionally, while many area Catholic schools strive to align more with area government schools, adhere to rigid standards and participate in high-stakes testing, we do not place emphasis or focus on these areas. We know that by fostering the growth of our children's faith and helping them grow in the wonder and awe of learning, we are preparing them for a lifetime of learning and critical thinking. We much prefer this method over our scholars learning a list of standards for a test without making a connection with the material, nor increasing their desire to learn more.

 

How often do your students attend Mass?

Our scholars attend Mass twice a week on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. Ideally, we will offer Mass for our scholars daily. This is an effort in progress with an anticipated implementation in our 2022-2023 academic year.

 

How else is the Catholic faith integrated into the school program?

 

Our faith is the center of all we do. Each class begins with silent time in prayer that is used to check in with God and offer prayers of petition or thanksgiving; we call this our Sacred Silence. Additionally, each classroom has a clear prayer space and routine, demonstrating the necessity of prayer throughout the day. School-wide activities such as monthly rosaries and weekly Stations of the Cross in Lent are celebrated as well. Because Christ is the source and center of all we do, it is important to recognize that our faith is not just an “add-on.” Our staff is highly formed and participates in bi-weekly small-group formation in addition to Mass attendance, regular adoration attendance, weekly staff prayer, Biblical History study, meditations and much more. The formation of our staff and their deep commitment to Christ serves them as they lead by example for our scholars. Their formation also assists them in communication and preparation within their classes helping them to lead all things, no matter what they are teaching, back to Christ. 

 

 

Are subjects—such as mathematics, science, literature, and history—integrated in any way?

 

One of the greatest blessings and most beautiful elements of the classical, liberal arts curriculum is focusing on Christ, The Golden Thread, who allows us to integrate many subjects bringing each subject outside of their traditional silos. While history and literature lend themselves most easily to integration, through collaboration and strong communication, our team is able to integrate all subjects. 

 

What is your school’s enrollment?

 

St. Regis Academy is home to just under 140 scholars, at this time.

 

 

Has enrollment been steady in recent years? 

 

Yes, in recent years our enrollment has taken a turn for the positive and has become steady. The effects of Covid-19 lead to a slight decrease of enrollment but we anticipate this to be a one year set back.

 

What is your school’s tuition? Do you offer a sibling discount? If you offer financial aid, how many families receive it and what is the average grant?

 

Tuition is $5,000 per scholar. For two children the cost is $7,500. We cap our tuition at $9,000 for three or more children. Thanks to the tremendous support of our parishioners and friends of St. Regis, we do offer a substantial amount of tuition assistance. 65% of our Academy families receive some kind of need-based tuition assistance. The average grant is approximately $2,000. In additional to income-based assistance, our parish, St. John Francis Regis Parish, also assists families by providing an additional grant from active parish participation.

 

 

How involved are parents in the life of your school?

 

Parents are very involved in our school. As the primary educators of their children, we partner with parents in their child’s growth and development and impress upon them the importance of their presence at the Academy. The age old adage, “It takes a village to raise a child,” is what drives our parent and teacher partnership. At minimum, parents serve 20 volunteer hours annually though many parents far exceed this number of volunteer hours.

 

Are you generally satisfied with your school’s teachers? How so?

 

Our teachers are the best there are! They know every scholar by name and many know all of our parents and school families by name. Our teachers make a sacrifice working here knowing that their pay rate is, on average, $8,000–$10,000 less than what they could make at area government schools. Because we focus on the whole child and do not use a scripted curriculum, our teachers spend a significant amount of time researching and preparing lessons that meet the needs of our individual learners. I am very thankful for their effort and their commitment to our scholars. 

 

Are parents generally satisfied with the education their children receive at your school? How do you know?  

 

Yes, I would say that our parents are generally satisfied with the education their children receive at St. Regis Academy. They provide feedback through daily conversations, regular surveys, and through their sharing about our Academy with others. At St. Regis Academy, though we strive to do well in all we do, we know we are not perfect and always see growth as an opportunity. We are truly grateful to our parents that in times of dissatisfaction, we can count on them to approach us with respectful discourse to resolve situations as they arise. The continued partnership between parents, families, and St. Regis Academy is evidence of parent satisfaction.

 

 

What are you doing to intentionally build and strengthen your school community? How do you communicate with students, families, and teachers? How do members of your community connect with each other?

 

Our community is very important to us. We enjoy building and growing our community through Mass and parish activity participation, parent information nights, family-oriented celebrations, community service, and athletic events. We are always looking for opportunities to invite our families into the parish and into our Academy building. We are also blessed to have a team in our parish that focuses directly on connecting with Academy parents to invite them to parish activities.

 

Face-to-face communication is everyone’s preference. When we can see and speak to each other, in-person, we have the best communication. We utilize phone calls and emails as needed. The Academy office and each classroom teacher also sends a weekly newsletter to each of their families.  

 

How do you utilize volunteers in the operation of your school? What has worked well in making volunteers effective?

 

Volunteers are key to the success of our Academy and are able to support the school in a variety of ways, including making copies and other small tasks for teachers, coaching sports, participating and leading fundraisers, and coordinating school-wide activities such as Halloween, Christmas, and Easter events for the south Kansas City community. Our volunteers help us to mulch playgrounds, paint walls, and help us care for our building in the summer months. 

 

What resources do you recommend parents use at home to deepen families’ understanding of and appreciation for the Catholic faith? For example, Word on Fire, Institute of Catholic Culture, Augustine Institute, etc.

 

The greatest resource we recommend parents take advantage of is Mass. We know that parents must have a relationship with Christ and must be models of this for their children. To support our parents, we share resources and information from our parish, articles provided by The Institute of Catholic Liberal Education and encourage the daily reflections of Matthew Kelly through Dynamic Catholic. Our parish community is currently seeking guidance from Amazing Parish (a collaboration between Patrick Lencioni and Matthew Kelly) to establish stronger foundations for invitations into our parish community.

 

What do parents value most in your school? How do you know that?

 

Through parent surveys, parents indicate that they value the high academic expectations, the diversity of our scholar population, the devotion our teachers show their students, our welcoming community, and the supportive family atmosphere. Parent-teacher relationships are prioritized, which provides teachers with meaningful, honest feedback. We also use surveys that provide clear, concise data.

 

What marketing efforts (events, social media, print advertising, digital advertising, etc.) have you found most effective in sharing your school’s story with the local community?

 

Especially during the past year, Instagram and Facebook have been essential in helping parents and other interested parties in the school feel connected to different activities. We have used YouTube to stream Mass and other activities, such as the Spelling Bee, that the community would normally be invited to. We’ve also created a new website that is strongly connected with our various platforms to help ensure connectivity and ease of access. Other media used this year include yard signs and a billboard! The billboard was loved by our community at large and received many shares and compliments. St. Regis also composes an annual video which is key to our marketing efforts.

 

How do you recruit new families to your school? What resources do you use to share your school’s story and connect with likeminded families? What insights can you share about what parents are seeking for their children and what your school offers that others don’t?

We use a number of methods to recruit new families to our Academy. The most effective recruitment tool is our parents and families. Interested families love to hear from current families about their experience. We offer a benefit for current families who refer others to our Academy. We also publicize our enrollment throughout our deanery as we are the last remaining school in our deanery (7 parishes).

Our website is a great resource for us to connect with interested families. Through our website, interested families can submit a form to let us know they are seeking more information. We then offer a New Family packet of information. 

 

In the parent interview, parents often share that they are seeking St. Regis because they are looking for community, communication and a place that emphasizes academic growth. Many indicate an appreciation for the Christ centered focus.

 

How much have you needed to sell your community of parents on the value of the education and formation your school offers? How many parents seek out what your school offers vs. how many need to be convinced? What messaging resonates with parents?

 

Many parents initially seek out St. Regis as they see it as a better alternative than what they might have at their present school. Once the family is here, they do not need to be convinced. They see the joy in our scholars and the academic excellence pursued by our community. Though, over the past two years, we have seen a rise of individuals seeking out our Academy specifically for the classical, liberal arts curriculum that we provide. Typically, once parents are here, they do not need convincing. Initial feedback from parents always includes a sense of awe regarding the child’s spiritual development. When parents begin to get a sense of our communication and our individual care for every child, they are sold!

 

 

How do you determine whether a prospective family will be a good fit for your school community? What steps are included in your application process? What shared values do current families expect you to protect as you add new families to your school community?

 

Prior to starting at St. Regis Academy, each new family undergoes a fairly thorough interview process. We review previous school records, we ask for two letters of recommendation, scholars complete a placement assessment, and families have an interview with the principal. 

 

Our families expect me to protect our sense of community. They want to be sure that I am admitting families and scholars that have a shared sense of responsibility for the well-being of our scholars and that they are equally committed and give, as they are able, of their time, talent and treasure.  

 

What do you look for when hiring teachers?

 

First and foremost, a love of children! We require an authentic relationship with the Lord and willingness and shown initiative to continue to learn and grow in faith. We also want our teachers to pursue knowledge beyond what is expected of them and model a desire for growth and learning beyond the classroom. We expect our staff members to be cooperative in team settings and to avoid mediocrity. 

 

How do you recruit new teachers? What resources do you use to share your school’s story and connect with qualified teachers outside of your school community? What insights can you share about what teachers are seeking in a school community and what your school offers that others don’t?

 

We expect that our teachers have a deep connection with all of our scholars and show a desire to grow in classical methodologies. We are really looking for the “unicorns” of talent that share a variety of expertise in regards to teaching, have a passion for our mission, and are committed to continued growth. For a new or inexperienced teacher, this can be quite a mouth full. For the experienced teacher, this can mean letting go of some practices that may have, over time, become habit or second nature.

 

To recruit teachers, we first look to highly esteemed Catholic universities that have a strong emphasis on formation of their students. While we do post to general hiring platforms, we do not often see highly qualified candidates emerge from these sources. There is a young Catholic adult group that meets in Kansas City, Missouri called City on A Hill. We are invited by the lead pastor of this group to share job openings on their Facebook page. We have also been connected with highly qualified individuals through word of mouth. 

To recruit teachers, we share our Academy’s video and print materials highlighting some of the benefits of teaching at our Catholic Academy. We know that we cannot always compensate our teachers at a competitive level, thus, we strive to offer other benefits for our staff. We offer a room with significantly reduced price infant care for our teachers who have been blessed with new babies. We offer free breakfast and lunch as a perk for the staff. Most importantly, we offer a sense of freedom to our teachers as they are entrusted as masters in the classroom and of their curriculum and have quite a bit of independence to form lessons that correlate with the wonder and awe of the scholars in their classroom. 

 

 

How do you determine whether a teacher you are considering hiring will be a good fit for your school community? What steps are included in your interview process? What shared values do current teachers and families expect you to protect as you add new teachers to your school community?

 

In an ideal situation, we would love for interested applicants to submit a writing sample and present a sample lesson. At this time, we have our Strategic Planning Team conduct a phone or pre-interview and then the candidate is interviewed by our Administrative Team including, pastor, principal and academic dean.

Our staff expects me to hire individuals who are equally committed to our mission and vision. This includes individuals who are Christ centered and who are committed to doing what is best for scholars and not always what is easiest for adults. Our staff gives a lot of themselves to our school. They want to know that the individuals I hire will reciprocate their level of giving.

 

How do you train teachers and what have you learned about teacher training?

 

Teachers are trained through mentorship, observation and feedback, book studies, and online resources such as Classical U, Circe Institute, Franciscan at Home and The Institute of Catholic Liberal Education.

There is no end to learning about teacher training! Teacher training is ongoing and should be as such. One of the most valuable lessons I have learned is that no matter how many times something is taught, repetition and review are key. Another important note is that teachers always show preference to training that provides strategies that can be applied immediately. 

 

What percentage of your school’s budget is covered by tuition revenue? How important is fundraising to the continued operation of your school? What works best to inspire families and community members to support your school? What doesn’t work? How have you created momentum in your fundraising efforts and what plans do you have to strengthen your fundraising program in the years ahead?

 

20% of our budget is covered by tuition revenue. Fundraising and grant writing is imperative for the continued operations of our school. Our family members help to sell items that provide profit for the Academy. While these efforts do help us to raise funds for our Academy, the biggest fundraising success comes from our annual appeal which is a direct ask for support for tuition assistance. 

 

Over the past few years, we have tried to decrease our efforts in asking people to buy goods, as it sometimes feels like we are selling items too often. Looking ahead, we want to ensure that what we ask of our community is aligned with our mission and vision and is not in place just to create income.

 

Are you the primary fundraiser for your school? How many hours do you spend on fundraising every week? How many hours does other staff spend on fundraising? 

 

We are blessed with a team that spearheads fundraising. Our parent-teacher organization manages the selling of items, money collection, and distribution of purchased items. We also have an annual appeal chairperson and committee that helps to seek donations for our auction. 

 

Despite everyone’s generous assistance, yes, I do feel like I am often the primary fundraiser for our school. I spend 5–10 hours per week, sometimes more if it is grant writing season, securing funds for our Academy and maintaining relationships with donors. Other staff members spend about the same amount of time on fundraising; about 20 hours per week in total.

 

What have you learned about relationships with those who oversee your school? What are common challenges for schools operating under your model and what is your school doing well that would be helpful for other schools to know about? What advice are you willing to share about how to navigate important and/or challenging relationships?

 

Relationships are key. All of the blessings that come to St. Regis come through relationships and networking. If people are on your team, believe in the mission, and are committed to the mission, then they will find ways to help when there is a need. Relationships can help or hinder the ordinary tasks of each day.

 

One blessing that I am immensely grateful for is that of the relationship of our Academy and myself with our pastor, Fr. Sean McCaffery. Fr. Sean fully supports our classical efforts and fully supports me as an administrator. He is present in our Academy and engages with our staff and scholars. His enthusiasm and presence makes a world of difference. Without him, our transition would have never been possible. 

 

Some challenges that we face operating under this model are:

  1. We have to live in two worlds. We need to satisfy the requirements of our Diocese and Accreditation while at the same time putting full focus and emphasis on classical, liberal arts pedagogy. This often results in more work for the administration.

  2. 50% of our scholars are not Catholic and are unfamiliar with the unique makeup of a parish school. Sometimes parents have expectations that are more in line with what would be true for government schools. 

  3. We must work to keep our parish and Academy families connected as the natural connection points, Mass and parish activities, are not always sought.

  4. Because we must apply for grants for sustainability, many grants require significant amounts of data. It can be challenging to provide the substantial data requested.

Relationships take time and energy. Give time to those that matter and always remember relationships are a gift and should never be taken for granted.

 

What is your school known for in your area?

 

Our school is known for our unparalleled authenticity. We are a happy, faith-filled community focused on excellence.

 

What is your school’s greatest challenge?

 

Our greatest challenge is the availability of financial resources.

 

What does your school do better than any other school in your area?

We excel at meeting each child where they are, loving them deeply, and finding ways to help them grow and flourish educationally and spiritually.

 

 

What have our questions not covered that would help clarify the success of your school?

 

In answering these questions, I felt a real pull to answer with honesty versus answering in a manner that paints everything in a beautiful picture. The truth of the matter is that the nature of this work is hard. It takes a lot of time, knowledge and effort and it is easy to become consumed by the challenges of day-to-day life and it is easy to feel alone. It is important to have a support system that can consistently remind you that God is in charge and His Will will always prevail. My constant prayer is “God, if you bring me the children, I will bring them to You.”

 

What is the most important difference between your school and struggling schools?

 

We are not focused on meeting standards, deadlines, and other data points; we are measured by student success.

 

Share one custom that is unique to your school.

 

Our 8th grade scholars serve as role models and big buddies to our Preschool scholars.

 

 

Share one resource that strengthens your school.

 

The Brown Family Foundation is committed and firmly believes in the capabilities of our scholars and teachers.

 

Share one tool—online or otherwise—that increases the efficiency or professionalism of your work.

 

While I almost hate to admit it, The Google Suite really helps me to increase the efficiency of my work.

 

 

Share one activity you do regularly that makes you a more effective leader.

 

Written prayer and reflection is a daily habit that helps me to be a more effective leader.

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Additional Resources:

 

St. Regis Academy