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Archives Familiar face named St. Bernard’s principal

July 1, 2020

By Darcy Fargo

Saranac Lake – Though St. Bernard’s School is losing a long-time principal to retirement, a familiar face has assumed the administrative role.

Raymond Dora, a St. Bernard’s alum who came out of retirement after nearly 40 years in public schools to serve as the Catholic school’s principal, is resuming his retirement after serving St. Bernard’s for nearly 10 years. Dora is handing the torch over to St. Bernard’s alumna and teacher Andrew Kilbourne-Hill.

Dora assumed the helm at the school at a time when it was struggling with enrollment. During his tenure, enrollment increased dramatically.

“We went from 42 students to 85,” Dora said. “Though we’ve dropped a little since.”

Dora said the increase in enrollment was achieved by planning and engaging parents and the community.

“We had to come up with a five-year plan,” he said. “We got everyone involved. Parishioners were involved, parents were involved, staff was involved. We had numerous meetings basically to decide if the school could continue or not. We really had tremendous support in those meetings. We’d have a meeting with 150 people coming to express their views. At those meetings, we got to hear from folks who thought the school was more of a burden on the church than a help to the church, and we got to hear from people who really supported the school. The support was overwhelming. We had a kindergarten class of 24, and things went forward.”

That class of 24 kindergarten students included Kilbourne-Hill’s daughter.

“Having that large and very involved kindergarten class definitely helped,” Kilbourne-Hill said. “It kind of indoctrined those parents to be advocates for the school and know that they needed to step up.”

Dora said the school also evaluated how it was raising funds.

“We certainly had to start looking at finances,” he said. “We set some benchmarks for enrollment. More enrollment means more tuition. We set benchmarks for advancement and fundraising. With those benchmarks, we had to look at what our fundraisers were and go from there. We had a few very good fundraisers and a lot of little ones. The hope was maybe to be able to move aside the little food sales and small fundraisers and do some big ones. We always kept some of the small ones, which also help.”

Currently, the school has 61 students enrolled for the fall. Both Dora and Kilbourne-Hill noted some of the decrease can likely be attributed to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We had three or four people looking at kindergarten right at the time we closed down,” Dora said. “We have not been able to get back in touch with them.”

“A few families have immune issues or live with people with immune issues, and they’re waiting to see what’s going to happen and what it’s going to look like,” Kilbourne-Hill said. “We have a handful of those types of families – waiting and seeing. We learned a lot in the last three months of online learning. It’s something we’re going to get ahead of. We want to make sure we can provide education to families that may not be comfortable sending their kids to school yet. We want to keep them involved in the school and involved in the parish but alleviate their fears.”

“On the positive side of that, I think we have our size in our favor,” Dora said. “You certainly have less exposure sending your child to St. Bernard’s School than to public school, number-wise.”

Regardless of class size, Dora said he has always tried to focus on individual students and their needs, and he sees a similar focus in the school’s staff.

“My mission has always been to look at the students in front of me and see who they are and where they are and to try to move forward from there,” Dora said. “I always tried not to just do the same thing I did last year. I certainly tried to understand the children, where they’re from and what background their brining to the school. I try to understand their difference and try to understand why they’re acting or doing what they are and move forward from there. I guess I would say I try to look at the individual student, and I do think that’s something the teachers here at St. Bernard’s School do well. They understand that all the kids aren’t the same or don’t have the same supports and background and so on, and see what’s going to work best for them.”

For her part, Killbourne-Hill, a Princeton graduate and former member of the U.S. National Hockey Team who won a silver medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, said she plans to continue building on the foundation laid by Dora.

“One thing I definitely want to bring as I step into this spot: have trust and faith in who you work with,” she said. “Ray’s been a great servant-leader in the sense that he’s said, ‘This is what you all need to do, and I trust that you’re going to be able to do it, and if you need help, let me know, and if you need resources, let me know.’ That’s really nice to have, and I don’t think that always happens in the teaching profession. There’s a lot of micromanaging.”

Kilbourne-Hill said she’d also like to help further build on the relationship between the school and the parish.

“My biggest goal is to firm up the parish and school connection,” she said. “We’re right across the parking lot. Traditionally, we go to church every Wednesday. The parish supports us. The families that come to St. Bernard’s, they really feel like it’s their school, and they have a lot of pride and ownership in that, and I would love for everyone in the parish to have that same feeling. There’s so many things we could tap into. If you look around at any one time at Mass, so many people have gifts to offer that we haven’t tapped into with the students. And it goes the other way, too. When the students send cards to, for example, Meals on Wheels, it brightens days and weeks. Making those connections stronger is one of my primary goals.”

St. Bernard’s Pastor Father Martin E. Cline says he feels the transition between the principals will be a smooth one.

“I’m very excited,” Father Cline said. “It’s sad news to announce Ray is going, but most gentleman his age are enjoying retirement not leading a Catholic school. I could tell he was ready.”

Father Cline noted that an administrative change can sometimes cause upheaval in schools, but he says he anticipates no such issues with Kilbourne-Hill assuming the administrative post.

“The community will hear Andrea Kilbourne-Hill’s name and say, ‘that’s where we want our kids.’ The community knows her dedication and hard work.”



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