Personality: Kathryn B. ‘Katie’ Ricard

Spotlight on president of the William Fox Elementary PTA

3/3/2022, 6 p.m.
Kathryn Baum “Katie” Ricard is looking to turn an outpouring of support in the wake of an unexpected, catastrophic event ...

Kathryn Baum “Katie” Ricard is looking to turn an outpouring of support in the wake of an unexpected, catastrophic event into an opportunity for education in Richmond — and a fulcrum for community unity.

As president of the William Fox Elementary School PTA, Ms. Ricard is hard at work following the Feb. 11 fire at the Hanover Avenue school in The Fan. The destruction was followed by a massive outpouring of community support—both money and other resources—and as the leader of the PTA, she has a great responsibility in how best to apply it.

As she works to help the Fox community of students, teachers and others deal with the trauma, she says the blaze didn’t force a change in her goals as PTA president.

“To be honest, my goals are still exactly the same,” she says. “I want to keep our community strong and I want our teachers to feel loved because both groups have undergone some significant trauma.”

The fire, she says, has brought the community closer together in a way that might not have happened normally “as we bond for a common purpose.”

A former vice principal in the Chesterfield school system, Ms. Ricard is helping parents and students manage the changes the fire has brought on. Students are learning from home now until a temporary replacement building at Clark Springs Elementary School is ready.

“I think about what I want for my kids, and that’s what I want for all our students at Fox,” Ms. Ricard says. “Likewise, I think about the support I would have wanted when I was a teacher, and I’m trying to give that to our faculty and staff. And parents, please know that we are in survival mode right now. Don’t beat yourself up about the extra screen time. I’m definitely not.”

The sheer amount of support for Fox has inspired her to look at possibly supporting other Richmond schools that need attention.

“How can we take our platform to focus the attention on other issues in public education?” she asked. “It is true that George Wythe has needed a new building for quite a while, and that needs to happen.”

For now, Fox Elementary’s future remains her greatest focus. “The last few years have been hard on our families, but also on our teachers, who have had to change many of the ways they’ve done things,” Ms. Ricard says. “I want Fox to continue to be a place where people like to send their kids and where teachers enjoy working.”

Meet an education advocate, Fox Elementary School supporter and this week’s Personality, Kathryn Baum “Katie” Ricard:

No. 1 volunteer position: President, William Fox Elementary PTA.

Occupation: Interim director of Youth Ministries at St. James’s Episcopal Church.

Date and place of birth: April 10 in Wilmington, Del.

Where I live now: The Fan.

Education: Bachelor’s in history and social studies, Boston University; and master’s in education leadership, University of Massachusetts-Boston.

Family: Husband, Darryl; and three children, Luke, 8, Grant, 7, and Nora, 4, plus two cats, Prince and Piper.

When elected Fox Elementary PTA president: September 2021.

Why I accepted position: During the pandemic, there were families who left Fox to find an in-person school option. With these shifts, it became clear to me that it was the time to step up and support my school and community. I couldn’t simply “talk,” I had to “walk” and do the work. At the time, I was an assistant principal at a Chesterfield high school, so I felt I understood the needs of educators, but being a parent, the needs of our families as well. I’ve since transitioned to interim director of youth ministry at St. James’s Episcopal. In transitioning, I now have greater flexibility to support Fox through this period of change.

Length of term: One year! But I hope to find new ways to support Fox, whether through another board position or chairing an event.

No. 1 goal or project as PTA president: The last few years have been hard on our families, but also on our teachers, who have had to change many of the ways they’ve done things. My goal was to create events that brought our community together, such as a Fall Festival where our children “trunk or treated” and we all watched “Hotel Transylvania” outside. I also wanted to find ways to support our teachers and make them feel appreciated, whether it was dropping off treats or just finally buying a Keurig for the teacher workroom. I want Fox to continue to be a place where people like to send their children and where teachers enjoy working.

Strategy for achieving goals: I say “yes” to all offers of community help, but had to create the organizational structure to support it. Our board members all have titles, but we’ve reassigned ourselves to new committees to handle the outpouring of support. We’ve also had amazing community members step up and lead endeavors for us like the book drive and providing lunches for teachers. I’m learning to delegate.

How I found out about the fire: I woke up suddenly at 11 p.m. and checked my phone and there was a text from a friend who lives across from Fox. Soon after, another friend called and I got texts, images and videos from others.

Initial reaction: I couldn’t leave my bed to go see it. I was frozen and just so sad for our students and teachers. I also thought, “I have to post something on the Facebook group for our community.” So I wrote, “Our thoughts and prayers are with our Fox community tonight. While we know our community is not defined by a building, that old building is pretty special to us.”

What I have learned about Richmond that I did not know before the fire: Richmond is a community that truly gives when the time is needed. The outreach from our community has been staggering and brought me to tears so many times. So many businesses have donated percentages (either part or all) of their sales to Fox. PTA boards from across RVA and the state have reached out offering help. Every day, my inbox gets at least five to 10 offers of help. It’s overwhelming, but in the best possible way.

Teachable moments for Fox students: My oldest son, Luke, was helping bring in books for the book drive. He has seen packages of books arrive constantly at our house from strangers. He said to me, “People really care about us and want to help us.” I want all our students to know that after this terrible fire, the community cared for and loved our students. And I hope that they will do the same someday, for a community, a family or a person in need.

Fox Strong means: We will stay together as a community, no matter what.

A perfect day for me: Running in the morning with my running group, going to a park or playground with the kids in the afternoon, and making pizza and watching a movie as a family at night.

What I am learning about myself during this moment: I’ve served in leadership for the last 10 years in the workplace. However, I’m finding myself truly leading in this moment. I’ve learned that I can take a difficult situation and create a plan of action for my organization to follow. After the fire, people wanted the PTA to crowd fund, but the Richmond Education Foundation was doing that. So instead, I shifted us toward community events, the book drive and our art auction, allowing us to still raise money and support our teachers and students without duplicating efforts.

Something I love to do that most people would never imagine: Experimenting with cooking new things, especially when guests come. Could it end in disaster? Possibly, but I like the fun and challenge that cooking brings.

Quote that inspires me: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” – Philippians 4:13

Friends describe me as: Calm, patient and kind.

At the top of my “to-do” list: Laundry. With three kids, it’s always laundry.

Best late-night snack: Anything sweet and sugary — ice cream, cupcakes, chocolate. I have a massive sweet tooth.

Best thing my parents ever taught me: To care for others. From an early age, I learned that service was important.

Person who influenced me the most: Emily Parks, my first principal in Massachusetts, under whom I both taught and interned. She taught me that reflection as a leader is so important. If I cannot articulate my “why” for doing things, I shouldn’t be doing them.

Book that influenced me the most: “Beartown” by Fredrik Backman. He truly gets the joy and pain that parenting brings.

What I’m reading now: “The House of Sky and Breath” by Sarah J. Maas.

Next goal: Our community has been so generous. My next goal is making sure we are wise stewards of the money so it will go as far as possible. As a board, we also want to give back and support our other RPS schools so we are deliberating on how best to do that.