“Trusting in Providence,” Dr. Andrew Kuffner Enters a New Role at the Lasallian District of San Francisco New Orleans


Lukas Werner

“I have been on a school schedule ever since I was in kindergarten,” President Dr. Andrew Kuffner said. “Something’s going to be missing in the fall.”

Avery Rush and Mary Loeb

Many educators’ careers bring them to a variety of different schools, sometimes in a variety of different states, teaching different age groups and different subjects from place to place, but for La Salle’s current president Dr. Andrew Kuffner, La Salle has been it. 

Since graduating from the University of Portland in 1996, La Salle has been Dr. Kuffner’s home. Now, for the first time in his life, he will move on in his career as an educator to the Lasallian district of San Francisco New Orleans — the same district that La Salle Catholic College Preparatory belongs to — where he will serve as the district’s Director of Formation for Mission. 

“There was this sort of transition point that I’m like, okay, I’m going to just step into the unknown a bit, sort of trust in Providence and say ‘O.K., I’m going to move in a new direction,’” Dr. Kuffner said. “Then the job opened up at the district, and so I kind of feel like it was meant to be.”

This point of transition also began as Dr. Kuffner prepared to defend his dissertation, which he did successfully in March. 

Earning his doctorate degree earlier this year means that Dr. Kuffner now has an EdD, a master’s in Educational Policies Foundations and Administration, and a bachelor’s of science in Education with Endorsements in Physics and Math, but before any of these landmarks in his academic journey, Dr. Kuffner earned his high school diploma after graduating from Central Catholic High School in 1991.

After high school, Dr. Kuffner entered his undergraduate studies at the University of Portland pursuing engineering, but his experiences at a local summer camp inspired his eventual change of direction.

“I was happiest when I was at summer camp at Camp Howard and being a counselor,” Dr. Kuffner said. “So I said ‘O.K., well, young people? Maybe, but I still loved the sciences.’”

This caused Dr. Kuffner to change his area of study at the University of Portland to secondary education, focusing specifically on physics and math. Once he graduated with his Bachelor of Science, Dr. Kuffner was hired to work as a physics teacher at La Salle, already having connections with some of the staff here.

“I was hired by my former religion teacher at Central Catholic — his name was Greg Kopra,” he said. “And the principal of La Salle at the time was Tim Edwards, who was the principal of Central Catholic when I was there.” Dr. Kuffner also knew one of the teachers he would be joining as part of La Salle’s science department, as she was a science teacher at Central Catholic while he attended the school.

Joining a new community that already had some familiar faces in it “was like coming home,” Dr. Kuffner said.

Mr. Kopra was a particularly important figure in Dr. Kuffner’s life when he was first starting out as an educator, as he served as a role model and mentor.

“In high school, people are voted, you know, ‘most likely to be an actor,’ but I was voted most likely to be Greg Kopra,” Dr. Kuffner said. “He saw that in me, and just sort of shared with me all of his resources… Those adults in your life that see something in you that you may not recognize but then sort of feed it, that’s what he was able to do for me, so I hope to do that with other kids.”

Although Dr. Kuffner did not know it at the time, the prophecy of this superlative would continue to come true, as he would go on to follow in Mr. Kopra’s footsteps throughout the rest of his career. 

Mr. Kopra served as La Salle’s vice principal before assuming the role of Director of Formation for Mission for the Lasallian District of San Francisco New Orleans. This is the exact role that Dr. Kuffner will be taking over once his time as La Salle’s president concludes this year. However, the connections between the paths of Mr. Kopra and Dr. Kuffner do not stop here.

When Dr. Kuffner was still in high school, Mr. Kopra was serving as not only a religion teacher, but also as Central Catholic’s retreat coordinator. This has carried into Dr. Kuffner’s career in a major way, as retreats and their impact has served as the central theme of his mission as an educator.

In his first year at La Salle, Dr. Kuffner created the inaugural Journey retreat, which now occurs three times a year for juniors and seniors. 

This retreat, Dr. Kuffner feels, is a practice that aligns deeply with the mission of Lasallian schools to “provide a human and a Christian education,” he said. “It’s human in that it just is affirming to you as a person, and it’s humanizing in that it helps you see others. And if that engenders or sparks a belief that you’re intentional, you’re created, you have a god that loves you, then that’s even better.”

He said that after beginning these retreats at La Salle, he attended “probably the first 40 or 50 Journeys” and even ran at least one retreat a year as vice principal before taking a break from Journey when his two daughters, Mollie Kuffner ‘20 and Emma Kuffner ‘18, were attending La Salle. “It was hard for me to take some time off Journey,” he said. 

While completing his doctoral degree at the University of Portland, Dr. Kuffner chose to focus his area of research on the impact of kairos retreats, a Christian style of retreat geared toward deepening one’s faith, identity, and relationships. In his research, Dr. Kuffner specifically focused on the long-term effects these types of retreats have on social, emotional, and mental health, as well as impacts on faith. 

Upon completing his doctoral dissertation, Dr. Kuffner found that “the answer is yes, statistically, there is an impact,” he said. “What are those impacts? Well, mostly, they’re to things like empathy, and love.”

Dr. Kuffner hopes his research on retreats similar to Journey will inform other schools and program directors “to make sure they’re leveraging retreats and using them in the best way possible,” he said. 

With the work for his doctorate degree behind him and a long history of serving various positions within La Salle, Dr. Kuffner is looking forward to moving into his new position, which he anticipates will be “kind of like one big Journey retreat all of the time,” he said. 

After assuming the role of vice principal for academics when Mr. Kopra left La Salle, Dr. Kuffner served in this position for 12 years and then became principal for the next five. In 2018, Dr. Kuffner took on the role of president as well, working under the titles of both principal and president for two years. When he switched to the title of solely president of La Salle after over 20 years of inward-facing work at the school, he said it was a large shift, as he was now mostly focused on fundraising, donor prospecting, managing the staff, and other responsibilities like these. 

“The biggest difference is I moved into this office, so locality, I mean, you’re out of the humdrum or the excitement of the every day,” he said. “It’s one more step removed from the kids.”

Although he has enjoyed working with the “awesome team of people” that work in the hallways of the La Salle Center adjacent to the school, in his new role as Director of Formation for Mission, Dr. Kuffner is excited to return to a job with an “element of teaching,” he said. “To me, it’s like my classroom is now twenty schools and my students are a bunch of adults.”

“I will do all of the mission formation for all of the staff in all of the schools in the district,” he said. For Dr. Kuffner, this involves “really to try to instill an understanding of [what it means] to be Lasallian,” he said. “I love this mission, I think it’s so human and real, and just aligns with so much of what I believe is good about education, so I’m excited to take that passion wherever I go.”

Dr. Kuffner is hopeful that the variety of previous roles he has served within the La Salle community will provide a “good well of experiences” to support him as he moves into his new position.

“I taught in the classroom, I was a vice principal on the academic side, I was the dean of students, I was the principal [and] president,” he said. “I sort of think I have a pretty good view of all the things that happen in a high school, and I just have this real deep appreciation for what happens in this place, or in Lasallian schools in general.”

As he thinks about leaving La Salle after this school year, Dr. Kuffner said he will miss the students of the La Salle community the most. “Witnessing the goodness in you kids, I just appreciate that so much,” he said.

In a parting word of advice for students, Dr. Kuffner shared the sentiment that “if you can learn to love yourself, that’s great,” he said. “If you can see that love in those around you, that’s great, even better. But if you can find that in every person you meet for the rest of your life, then that to me is transformational. That’s what I hope for young people, is that every person they meet for the rest of their life is their brother, their sister….There is no other, it’s just us.”

“I will miss this place for sure,” he said.