5 questions with Robert Knapp

03/06/2014 4:42 PM

08/08/2014 10:22 AM

Robert Knapp is president of Kapaun Mount Carmel High School. His title was incorrect in an earlier version of this story.

Robert Knapp had a very successful career as a lawyer with Koch Industries – until last year.

Ten months ago, he left Koch to become president of Kapaun Mount Carmel High School. He brought with him a deeply Catholic heart and a Koch-trained eye toward instilling an entrepreneurial spirit in the school’s culture.

Born and raised in Wichita, the 49-year-old Knapp graduated from Kapaun Mount Carmel and later the University of Kansas and its law school. His last position with Koch was chief counsel for Invista’s Intermediates business. He is married to Becky and they have five children.

Q. 1 Why the move?

A. The first part of that answer has to clue in on the Catholic faith. That is a very integral part of my family, and when you combine the aspects of the faith and the culture and the school like Kapaun Mount Carmel, which lives that faith as part of its mission. That is a significant draw for someone like me, and to try to use the gifts and talents that have been given to me in a way that uplifts the school and helps it move along its mission path.

Q. 2 What corporate skills are transferable to running a high school?

A. I have a very curious mind that is analytical about many things. I think that is what Koch Industries trains you to do. So you don’t just ask the question and leave the room. We take ownership of these issues. We have accountability, and with that comes the necessity to analyze these issues and try to make them better. That is the true mark of a Koch-trained individual: someone who takes accountability for something they see and moves to getting it fixed through the analytical process. That is easily transferable here.

Q. 3 What hasn’t transferred?

A. I’ve asked our teachers to be entrepreneurial. They just don’t know what that means. In a school setting that doesn’t translate very well. Money is a problem, but also all the training and mentality of the faculty here is much more limited to their scope of work: “I’m an English teacher; don’t ask me to think about how great the math department could be, that’s not my realm.”

Q. 4 Are you doing anything specific to change that culture?

A. We are beginning to work on the idea of establishing several academies within the school. Your typical high school is a liberal arts institution. What we see is more of a push by students, their families, universities and the overall education culture to see more specialization where it can occur – find academically talented students, but not just academically talented, but talented in the arts, or in math, and find avenues for them to build on their strengths. If we were a university, we might say these are majors.

Q. 5 What is the right pronunciation of Kapaun?

A. It is KAY-pun Mount Carmel. There has been a lot of issue around the name. We have spoken to the Kapaun family and, at this point, they have said, “It’s absolutely fine with us. Don’t change the way you pronounce it” until authorities tell us otherwise. And our authority is the Catholic Church. If or when Father KAY-pun is canonized, there is a chance he would become Saint ka-PAWN, in which case, we would have to change the way we pronounce the name.

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