St. James Families,

Happy midsummer! We are just under a month away from our first day with freshmen on August 15th, so things are starting to really pick up steam at school in preparation for our best year yet!

As we look towards a new year, there will be some exciting changes to our building, procedures, and staffing of which we wanted to inform you. Please take some time to look these over and send any questions, thoughts, or concerns to us as we finalize our preparations!

Thanks to an incredible auction last October and subsequent hard work from our advancement office, Phase One of our Innovation Initiative is on pace to be completed prior to the first day of class! This includes a complete renovation of our Media Center into four new spaces: a new, front-and-center home for Campus Ministry; our new Rhetoric and Media Arts classroom and studio spaces; and two beautiful classrooms to house our Computer Science and Business courses.

The other, less “flashy” part of these renovations is a reworking of our main office area in an effort to improve our safety and security as well as prioritize our student services offerings. The renovation plans shared last October included moving the counseling department out of the Media Center and into the main office suite for easier student access as well as deepened collaboration between student services personnel and the administrative team. The front entrance to the school is also being reworked so that it is more of a true “pinch-point” entryway. Visitors will now be buzzed through two separate locked doors funneling straight into the new front office area (which was previously the president’s office waiting room). This will ensure that there are two opportunities to screen visitors entering the building and ensure that those entering do not have direct access to the main school area until after coming through the office.

While these plans were all part of our original initiative advertised last fall, school safety is obviously on the forefront of everyone’s minds as we return, so we wanted to revisit these changes with you prior to our return. We will of course continue to review and practice our protocols for intruders and other safety situations with our students and staff as well. Having said that, the best protective factor for schools are deep, meaningful connections and supports amongst students and staff, and the reorganization of offices is as much to facilitate those connections as anything else.

Health Protocols
For the 2022-2023 school year, there will not be any required Covid-19 related protocols other than required isolation periods for confirmed positive Covid-19 cases as determined by the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment and as required by our status as mandated reporters. We will no longer require any quarantining, testing, or masking of any kind. Limited testing may be an available option for symptomatic students during the school day.

Despite a difficult few years for educators everywhere, St. James experienced one of its lowest turnover rates in recent memory this past spring. We had only two teachers leave our staff: Deidre Speck, our ASL teacher, retired after six years serving at St. James and over 30 years in education; and Tricia Hutchison has concluded her second stint teaching at St. James to pursue an opportunity with an educational technology company. Other than these two teachers, the entire St. James staff is returning for the fall!

Below you will find a brief introduction to each of our new teachers. In addition to replacing Mrs. Speck and Ms. Hutchison, we have added four additional teachers and two new support staff positions for this school year as part of our “Develop and Retain Faculty” imperative on our strategic plan published in January.

The additional support positions will bring dedicated, experienced teachers to work with our freshman and sophomore seminar classes, relieving some duties from other teachers and helping supplement what our existing student services personnel do for our kids.

New Staff:
Rhetoric and Media Arts – Max Grisnik will be the leader of our new Rhetoric and Media Arts program this fall. Mr. Grisnik has been teaching social studies at St. James for the last several years and has a degree in Media Arts.

American Sign Language – Marisa Hurd will be our ASL teacher next year. Mrs. Hurd was our first ASL teacher at St. James and has been a full-time ASL interpreter since she left here in 2010. Her daughter Kathryn is an SJA alumna.

English – We have hired Jacqueline Kopitke to join our English Department. Mrs. Kopitke has been teaching at Maur-Hill Mount Academy for the last three years and has been their department chair for the last two. This summer she got married (to an SJA alum!) and moved to the Kansas City area.

Social Studies – Jen Twellman will be returning to teach at SJA. Jen taught Social Studies here for three years in 2008-2011 before staying home with her kids. She is now ready to return to teaching and will be handling freshmen World Studies next fall.

Math – Lindsey Dermer has been hired to join our Math team. Lindsey has 15 years of secondary math teaching experience, both in public and Catholic schools, in Texas and St. Louis. Her family moved to Kansas City this past fall.

Theology – We have hired Natalie Garza to teach freshmen and senior Theology. Natalie is from San Antonio and graduated last spring with her Master’s in Theology and Catechetics from Franciscan University in Steubenville.

Science – Alex Warn is coming to join our Science department. Alex taught at Mill Valley the last two years, at a Catholic middle school in West Virginia for the two years prior to that, and before that taught at Olathe South for 7 years. In addition to teaching science, he will also be on our football coaching staff and an assistant science olympiad coach.

Spanish – We are still finalizing our hire to replace Ms. Hutchison, but this will be moving from part-time teaching to full time next year to relieve some teaching hours for Senora Wendy Leon as she becomes our first Director of Culture and Engagement.

Sophomore Seminar – Our accompanist for the Choir, Christy L’Esperance, will move from part-time to full-time on staff next year. In addition to accompanying three of our choirs, she will be the facilitator for 5 sections of our new Sophomore Seminar.

Freshmen Seminar – Dena Rickert is coming from Ascension Catholic School to be our Freshmen Seminar facilitator. She has worked at Ascension since 2013 in various capacities, most recently as their drama and technology teacher. She has her Master’s in Education and great experiences that will benefit our Freshmen greatly next year.

New Directorships:
Director of Culture and Engagement – In addition to teaching Spanish part-time, Senora Leon will begin a new role as Director of Culture and Engagement. Senora Leon is working on her doctorate in educational leadership at KU and has been a Dean in our Community System for several years. In her new role, she will help implement the initiatives under the “Opportunity and Access” imperative on our strategic plan and will assist John Muehlberger with some items related to student culture and discipline.

Director of Educational Programming – After teaching in our math department for over a decade, Sam Rockford became our Director of Innovation two years ago in a position funded by an external foundation. As the innovation initiative becomes reality, Mr. Rockford’s role is expanding to oversee our new Faculty Coaching program and Professional Learning Communities for our teachers, among other responsibilities.

Director of Assessment – Jessica Rolston has been our assistant principal for the last six years. Her new title of Director of Assessment is reflective of her principle focus on our growing assessment system and the data that it produces. With the addition of new staff and new assessments such as Fastbridge progress monitoring for all grade levels and on-site ACT testing for all juniors in addition to the existing assessment program (PSAT, Practice ACT, AP testing, testing center throughout the school day, etc.), Mrs. Rolston’s focus will be on all operations related to assessment and how to use their data to lead to student success.

Director of Student Services – Lynda Higgins joined us as our Director of Student Services last year and will be expanding some of her responsibilities this year. In addition to continuing to lead and support the counselors and Guided Studies teaching staff, she will now support teachers and parents on all issues related to student plans, grades, or learning concerns.

We are so excited for these changes and the continued growth and development of our amazing school. As always, thank you for partnering with us in the education of your children, and let us know how we can best serve and support your families.

In Christ,

Shane Rapp, Ed.D.