St. Philip High School Principal Vicky Groat has a no-nonsense demeanor, but her heart bleeds St. Philip red.
“She really loves the school,” Mary Rabbitt, longtime St. Philip High School administrative assistant, said. “She will do anything to make sure it’s vibrant.”
Mrs. Groat graduated from St. Philip in 1985, the youngest child of celebrated St. Philip volleyball coach and teacher Shelia Guerra. She played on three of her mother’s nine state championship volleyball teams, before adding another ten state titles as a coach herself.
Although her mother saw her as an educator, Mrs. Groat had other plans. She earned a business degree from Central Michigan University. After staying home with her young son, Mrs. Groat took a job managing a kitchen cabinet shop.
When her mother died in 2006, Mrs. Groat left her job to grieve and think.
“I know my mom didn’t want me to do this,” Mrs. Groat said. “She thought I needed to get in the school. She always thought I should have gone into education. She thought I should be with the kids.”
St. Philip needed a student services director. Mrs. Groat applied for and got the job. Two years later, Terry Newton retired as St. Philip’s athletic director. Mrs. Groat applied for and got that job. Her son, her work, and her community were now under one familiar roof.
Principal Tim May’s sudden death in 2014 plunged the school into grief and uncertainty. Mrs. Groat told Fr. John Fleckenstein, “Whatever you need me to do, I will do it.” He asked her to be interim principal.
Katie Reed, St. Joseph Elementary and Middle School assistant principal, was St. Philip’s social studies teacher at the time.
“She was a huge source of strength during a difficult time,” Ms. Reed said. “To have our own person – a home person – take the reins and get us through meant a lot.”
Mrs. Rabbitt, who has worked with 15 principals during her tenure, was impressed with Mrs. Groat’s approach.
“She has good instincts,” Mrs. Rabbitt said. “She will let kids know she is disappointed in something they did, but she also lets them know, ‘Okay, we’re done. Let’s move on.’”
“Vicky truly cares about the students and their success,” Fr. Fleckenstein said. “She demonstrates that she wants each graduate to walk out with a solid high school degree, with faith as it’s foundation.”
“She gets it,” Ms. Reed said. “She knows we are a family. It’s not just a school. It’s a family. You can tell, at the end of the day, every decision she makes comes from the heart.”
Although asked to consider the position permanently, Mrs. Groat declined. Being principal would mean earning her masters in administrative education while running a school, an athletic department, and a team. However, as the principal search stretched into its second year, Mrs. Groat changed her mind.
“Because it’s St. Phil,” Mrs. Groat said. “This place has a hold on you. My mom taught here for almost 30 years, I graduated from here – it’s a special place, and I want to be a part of it. It’s my family. There is no other place I would rather be.”
In other words, her mother was right.