by Alan Hoskins
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Sister Vickie Perkins made a promise when her order, the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, asked her to become the founding president of an innovative inner-city Catholic school.
She promised she’d stay long enough to see the first seniors, the class of 2010, graduate from Cristo Rey Kansas City.
Sister Vicki fulfilled that promise in spades. And for that — and literally a lifetime spent educating youth in the Catholic schools of the Kansas City metropolitan area — she is being inducted into the Mid-America Education Hall of Fame at Kansas City Kansas Community College on Nov. 5. The event, also a fundraiser for scholarships for the KCKCC Endowment Association, is open to the public and features a dinner and induction ceremonies. (See sidebar.)
Sister Vickie’s educational career included stints at Bishop Ward High School in Kansas City, Kan., and Bishop Hogan High School in Kansas City, Mo. She served as superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph as well. So she brought some impressive credentials to the new enterprise.
Cristo Rey Kansas City, located in Kansas City, Mo., was to be the 13th of a national network of 24 Cristo Rey schools. They got their start in high-poverty areas of Chicago in the mid-1990s. The one requirement to attend Cristo Rey is that a student must come from a low-income family.
“Community leaders wanted to break the cycle of poverty and figured the only way was to get young people educated. And to do that, they felt the best way was to start a college prep school,” said Sister Vickie.
“The question then was how to pay for it,” she continued. “So they hired a businessman who told them to go out into the community and find businesses who would provide entry-level jobs for students. The businesses would then pay the school, which would pay a large part of the costs of education.”
Sister Vickie led the way in renovating the former Redemptorist High School and Grade School at Linwood and Broadway, hiring a staff, recruiting the first class of ninth-grade students and finding Kansas City businesses to hire Cristo Rey students for the work/study program.
When the first class graduated, 55 of the 59 students were enrolled in college for the fall semester; the remaining four enrolled by the start of the spring. Having fulfilled her promise, Sister Vickie officially stepped down on June 6.
Her retirement, however, was short-lived.
When officials with the national Cristo Rey Network in Chicago learned she was stepping down, they offered her a part-time job.
“I’m traveling to other schools which are just starting or having problems that may need help or support,” said Sister Vickie, who will commute from her home in the Argentine area of Kansas City, Kan.
“Sister Vickie’s leadership and ‘can- do’ attitude has made Cristo Rey Kansas City a leading light — not only the Cristo Rey Network, but in American urban education,” said Robert Birdsell, president and CEO of the Cristo Rey Network. “In every decision and action, she has demonstrated a laser- like focus on students and on their successful preparation for college.”
She’s also working with the Urban Ranger Corps, a summer work and community service program for at-risk teens.
“It’s an eight-week program for urban boys to keep them off the streets,” she said. “They get paid to help paint houses, build trails and other things to earn money and stay out of trouble.”
A distinguished career
Sister Vickie joined the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth after graduating from Bishop Hogan High School in Kansas City, Mo.
She holds a bachelor’s degree from Saint Mary in Leavenworth and a master’s from Ohio State, both in mathematics. She has also studied at UMKC, Notre Dame and Adams State College of Colorado.
During her summers in college, she worked in juvenile detention centers in Wyandotte and Jackson counties before beginning a career in education as a fifth-grade teacher in Chicago.
In August 1965, she began an 11-year career as a math teacher at Bishop Ward High School in Kansas City, Kan. She returned to her alma mater, Bishop Hogan, in 1976, teaching math for one year before taking over as principal for the next 10 years.
Next, named associate superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, she was elevated to superintendent after one year, a position she would hold for six years.
After one year as a youth specialist for Partnership for Children, Sister Vickie spent the next four years as executive director of the Mount St. Vincent Home in Denver before returning to Kansas City, Kan., to serve six years as executive director and director of Early Care and Education at the Gardner Institute.
Named Kansas City’s Woman of the Year in 1985, Sister Vickie has also won numerous other awards. Her most recent include the Urban Hero Award in 2009, the Harmony Humanitarian Award in 2010, and recognition as one of Kansas City’s Most Influential Women by KC Business Magazine in 2011.