June 2010

ST. FRANCIS CATHOLIC SCHOOL: A School Comes Of Age

Author: Teresa Fitzgibbons | Photographer: Photography By Anne

Children—they’re the world’s greatest natural resource and their parents’ greatest treasure. The decision of where to educate a child is among the most important choices a parent is called upon to make. Parents must entrust a school, not only to instill a solid academic foundation for their child, but also to care for and nurture that child for a significant part of the day.

“We develop hearts as well as minds here,” said Dr. Mike Rockers, principal of St. Francis Catholic School. “In our view, success is not just about being well-educated; it’s about becoming a better person.”

That statement echoes the school’s mission statement: “To nurture students’ spiritual and intellectual growth in an authentically Catholic community committed to academic excellence.” The school has been doing just that since opening its doors in 1996 to a couple of dozen families with pre-kindergarten and kindergarten age students and operating out of the parish’s family center. In the 14 years since, the school has become a fully accredited pre-kindergarten through eighth grade school, located on a sprawling campus that includes three academic buildings, a fine arts center, and a brand new gym and stage. The school’s enrollment has paralleled its physical expansion. Today, St. Francis School educates over 200 children from nearly 150 families.

Rockers credits that growth to the entire St. Francis community. “We are so blessed to have parents, parishioners, and professional staff who are so willing to sacrifice for the children. Our improved facilities are evidence of this willingness to provide what it takes to succeed and grow.”

St. Francis School’s commitment to academic excellence is also clearly evident. Last year, the school earned prestigious accreditation through two respected accrediting bodies: The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) and the Southern Association of Independent Schools (SAIS).

“You can tell people we have a great school, but so what?” said Steve Riley, St. Francis School board facilitator. “We have achieved a stamp of approval that is nationally recognized. It means a group of outside professionals agrees that we are committed to exceeding standards based on educational research—that we have the framework in place to meet and exceed state and federal requirements. It means we have committed to a long-range strategic planning process and that we strive for continuous improvement.” The school is also accredited by The South Carolina Independent School Association (SCISA). St. Francis School is the only Catholic pre-K-eighth grade school in the state to possess three such accreditations.

Students study a strong curriculum in the basics of reading, writing, mathematics, and religion as well as social studies, Spanish, and science. Subject specialists teach art and music, physical education, computer, and library science. All academic teachers are degreed and hold state certification. Dr. Mike Rockers holds three post-graduate degrees and 35 years of experience as a teacher, principal, and superintendent in Catholic schools. Four Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist are also on staff.

“Parents are the first and primary educators of their child,” said Dr. Rockers. “We’re so fortunate that so many of our parents see the school as an integral part of their child’s life and support us in so many ways.”

Research shows that schools with strong parental support perform better academically and in building character. St. Francis School is fortunate to have many such parents who are involved in everything from providing a hot lunch program and assisting teachers to coaching and supervising recess and class outings to fundraising and serving at other events. Thanks to their dedication, the school has been able to establish exceptional community-building events like the annual breakfast with Santa, holiday parties and parades, family fish fries and potluck dinners just to name a few. Their presence at weekly Masses and other religious activities supports the school’s Catholic foundation.

“St. Francis is a family school,” said Anne Derenpentigny, president of the Family-School Association. “Families regard it as their school. Older students mentor the little ones. We enjoy interacting with one another and the students. We really get to watch them grow up.”

Of course, it’s not all work and no play! Numerous competitive sports teams such as golf, volleyball, basketball, cross-country, and soccer are open to middle school students. Academic competitors can vie against students from across the state in activities like Literacy Meets, Math Meets, Spelling Bees, Geography Bees, Science Fair, and Quiz Bowl. Older students produce the annual yearbook and take part in dances and retreats. Fine Arts director, Lisa Sweeney, produces a number of impressive musical performances and holiday concerts for various grade levels. The school also provides an aftercare program to accommodate working parents until 5:30 p.m.

The school has truly come of age. Students consistently score well above national averages in standardized tests. St. Francis School offers a nurturing and disciplined environment. While the student body is mainly composed of children from St. Francis and Holy Family Parishes, the school welcomes students of various denominations from across Beaufort County.

“We call our students to be well-educated people of faith and integrity,” said Rockers. “We believe we’re working with the Holy Spirit in developing the whole child and not just their intellect.”

St. Francis Catholic School is located at 45 Beach City Road. For more information or to inquire about the application process, call (843) 681-6501 or visit sfcshhi.org.

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