Everything at SJA starts and ends with the mission, and so we’re not just here to get kids ready for a career; we’re here to pass on the faith and educate the whole child, focusing more on who they become rather than simply what they’re able to do

By Shane Rapp, Ed.D, Principal

In 2018, Sam Rockford was one of two finalists in the state of Kansas for the highest honor the federal government awards to teachers: The Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.
So why in the world is he not teaching anymore???

“Leaving the classroom was obviously very difficult,” said Rockford. “That’s where my heart has always been and always will be. Having said that, when this new opportunity arose to help students and advance the mission of SJA in a new way, I really felt called to seize it.”

The new opportunity referenced above is the position of “Director of Innovation” established at St. James last year and generously funded by the Brown Family Foundation. This is a role similar in some ways to ST(R)EAM Directors at other schools, with a few key differences.

“Obviously we’ve been watching the changing educational landscape around us over the last decade with many schools moving to an emphasis on STEM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Math) subjects, a project-based approach, and a heavy focus on career preparation. Dr. Rapp, Mr. Tylicki, and I all spent time visiting other schools and community partners and meeting with key people in the area over several years to make sure we had a firm grasp on what was happening around us so we could evaluate what was a fit for us.

“Everything at SJA starts and ends with the mission, and so we’re not just here to get kids ready for a career; we’re here to pass on the faith and educate the whole child, focusing more on who they become rather than simply what they’re able to do. While we found that a lot of STEM programs were too narrowly focused for our mission, we also found that there were some steps forward we could take to move our mission forward while also helping our students be able to operate in our quickly changing world.”

Mr. Rockford’s past year has been spent doing a lot of research, reading, visiting, planning, and prayer and conversation with the staff and administration at St. James. The next three promise to bear the fruit of all that work.

“I’m really excited for the fall. We’ll be publishing our three-year strategic plan for St. James, and part of that is going to include the details of our Innovation Initiative that will take place during that time frame. We’ve really been thoughtful and prayerful about how we can stay true to the well-rounded liberal arts education Catholic schools are called to provide, while still taking exciting steps forward in everything from Computer Science to math supports for all students to a dynamic and one-of-a-kind Media Arts program. I think the Holy Spirit has truly guided this process to help us go even deeper in passing on the faith to the next generation, knowing that this next generation faces a world different in many ways from the one previous generations faced.”

While he might not be in the classroom, Mr. Rockford is still serving the students and mission of St. James, and his work promises to spark a lot of conversation and excitement in the coming months and years.

By Shane Rapp, Ed.D, Principal
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