Mrs. Gerstner Teaching science

Our Mission Statement succinctly emphasizes our school’s goal of “inspiring our students to be the best versions of themselves.”  While I did not ask those interviewed for this article if this was part of their motivation for choosing their career path (maybe I should have), I would, based on what they shared with me, contend that it influenced their decision to return to Collegiate to teach, even if that statement wasn’t a part of the mission when they attended.

Currently there are 14 members of our faculty who graduated from Wichita Collegiate, six of which followed in the footsteps of one of their parents who was a member of the faculty here, and one of those who is a second-generation Wichita Collegiate alumna currently teaching here.  In our Early Childhood Division Haley Schwindaman ’12 daughter of MS English teacher Laura Cusick ’88 teaches kindergarten.  Joining Laura in the Middle School are counselor Heidi Holton ’11, Learning Specialist Shannon Flack ’99, and Innovation Lab instructor and State Champion Baseball Coach Joe Gehrer ’02.  All three of which have parents who have been or currently are faculty members.  In the Upper School, Debate teacher Rob Egan ’13, Biology teacher Danielle Gerstner ’09, Chemistry teacher David Trombold ’71, Geometry teacher Jack Stewart ’13, and French teacher Brooke Finan ’92, whose mother Barbara Stokley was an esteemed member of our faculty, all carry on the tradition of academic excellence at Collegiate.  In addition, Kathy Rukes ’99, daughter of former faculty member Charlot Talbott, works tirelessly as Director of Admissions, and her brother Joe Talbott’93 has been a long-time coach at the school.  Rounding out this list of exceptional individuals is class of 77 grad Kevin Reed who has guided us as Director of Operations although he served the faculty in other roles over the years.

No doubt inspired to understand this phenomenon by the recent photograph of alumni children currently attending Collegiate, a staggering 125 students, I sought out our alumni faculty.  Is this type of devotion to one’s alma mater seen in Independent Schools around the country?  While it isn’t uncommon (although very rarely at the same percentage), it warms my heart knowing that Collegiate truly is a family and that so many family members have returned to share the gift of a Collegiate education with the next generation of Spartans.   I sat down with several of these faculty members who are alumni to try and understand why the chose to return.  The answers were inspiring and certainly make me proud to be a part of an academic institution that positively impacts the lives of its students. 

For this article, I focused on those alumni who are currently teaching in the classroom, not because they are of greater importance, simply to limit the scope of information gathered.  While I would love to share each and every answer to the questions I asked, my already verbose self is going to summarize some similarities and differences (mostly similarities) in the answers I received. 

When asked if they had always thought they would be teachers at Collegiate only one alumnus said yes.  It makes sense that Haley would answer this way as her mom, also an alumnus, teaches here as well.  Once our other alumni teachers committed themselves to the profession of education, though, most said they hoped to be able to teach at Collegiate.  Why?  Here the answers varied, but they fell within the same framework, concisely phrased by Rob Egan: “Collegiate offers a culture conducive to learning and therefore, teaching.”  The paths to teaching at Collegiate varied, but all the alumni knew they would have to hone their craft before joining the faculty.  Once they became faculty members, the alumni shared how they were inspired by their colleague’s commitment to their craft and the care they have for their students, both things they appreciated while students at the school as well.  Jack Stewart reflected that as a student, “learning felt like a fun adventure more than a box to check or a task to accomplish.”  As a teacher today, he is surrounded by colleagues who bring that same dynamic, and all of our alumni faculty thrive in an environment where  knowing their students and inspiring them to find joy in learning while celebrating their progress is the “norm”. When asked if their experiences at Collegiate as students made them better teachers at Collegiate, they were all quick to point out they weren’t better than their colleagues, but when I clarified by asking if they were better versions of themselves, they agreed they did have a unique understanding of what the students were “going through” and thought they could help them navigate the journey effectively.   Asked what they enjoyed most about their time as students, unanimously they cited their relationships with their teachers, and now as teachers themselves, most enjoy their relationships with their students. 

I was curious if there was a teacher our alumni wanted to be like once they decided on becoming teachers themselves.  While some were hesitant to highlight one teacher more than another, I pressed them to give me two teachers who influenced how they teach today.  What I found most interesting about these responses was that they were all different.  Confirming that great teachers make a great school and that Collegiate is made up of great teachers.  I also asked if there was something about their student experience that they wanted to change or improve now that they were teaching.  Again, the answers were varied but focused primarily on the process and not the end result.  Danielle reminds her students that their grades do not define them, and that Plan A is not the only plan, and rarely the followed plan.  Hayley summarized by saying she wants “to help kids love learning.” It was noted that while our alumni may have felt that their grades were the primary focus while in school, that was not necessarily the school’s intent, but their own focus.  As faculty they hope that they can further encourage their students to focus on the process and let the grades come organically from their hard work.

I have learned that a school can only be as excellent as the teachers teaching within it.  Wichita Collegiate, since its beginning has prided itself on the exceptional faculty who work here.  The 14 alumni who currently work at Collegiate certainly strengthen our exceptional faculty.  These alumni, who attended the school between 1967 and 2013, all credit their teachers for providing the care, knowledge, motivation, and support to be the best versions of themselves.  Despite changing names and faces, the faculty at Collegiate remain our greatest resource and their impact on our students is lifelong.  One example of this impact is seen on campus every day in the form of these 14 alumni who have returned home to pay it forward.  Indeed, Once a Spartan, Always a Spartan.