On the hill ... our experience runs deep.

Our experienced teachers dedicate their time, talent, energy and resources to creating an innovative educational environment for our students. Here are just a few faculty profiles that demonstrate our commitment to academic excellence.

Flipping Out: John Robb

Walking into John Robb’s mathematics classroom, you might be surprised by a few things. There’s not a piece of paper or pencil in sight, and instead of standing in front of the students lecturing, Robb is in the back – the students do most of the talking. This classroom setup may seem backward, but it’s actually very forward—utilizing new technology and teaching methods. Robb, now in his 12th year of teaching at FSHA, spoke with us about his unique classroom, “flipped” teaching and getting girls to love math.

List of 8 frequently asked questions.

  • Q: Why did you decide to become a teacher—and specifically a math teacher?

    A: While in college, I worked as a math teacher assistant at a juvenile detention center called Pride House. I was then hired to take over the math department. I enjoyed teaching, and so I decided to switch from a physics major to a math major and pursue a teaching credential.
  • Q: Your classroom is set up a bit differently – for example, the students don’t take traditional notes in a notebook. How do you use technology in the classroom? And how has it improved the teaching experience?

    A: I use the laptops with software such as Remote Desktop and SMART Notebook along with “graphic tablets” so the class can work on problem sets I send to their laptops. I stand behind the students with my wireless tablet so I can observe their computer screens while we use the tablets to solve the problems. I am able to catch student errors (and correct them) as they occur, and I am able to keep all students on task. We are able to do the more difficult problems together that often get left out in a traditional class environment.
  • Q: You also don’t do a whole lot of lecturing. Can you explain what a “flipped” classroom is?

    A: Basically, home and class time are switched. My students take notes for the class at home from videos I make and upload to YouTube. During class, we spend our time solving as many problems as we can fit in. Students are able to take notes at their own pace at home, then work the tough problems in class with help available from fellow students and – of course – me, the teacher. It is a very efficient use of class time.
  • Q: Have you seen a large improvement in your students’ work since doing the “flipped” classroom?

    A: It has been successful. The one example that really proved this to me was that I was able to give a 100 percent word-problem test to an algebra class—and they did well. They weren’t freaked out about it; usually if you give a word-problem test, they do the opposite! I think the reason I was able to do that is the flipped classroom environment. We have the entire block to do problems, so by the time we got to that test, we had done so many problems together and the
    students were ready.
  • Q: How is teaching math in an all-girls setting different than a co-ed setting?

    A: In an all-girls setting, the girls are much more supportive of each other. There may be drama here, but nothing like in a public co-ed school. They don’t have to worry about impressing the boys. I know these girls still want to impress boys— high-school boys are absolutely on their brains all the time—but I think during class, that is pushed aside. There are a lot of girls answering questions in my class who I know wouldn’t have participated in a mixed environment. They would’ve never raised their hands. I think they just feel a lot more comfortable in this environment.
  • Q: What does the all-girls aspect bring to the teaching experience, especially in a male-dominated field like math?

    A: The challenge isn’t in getting the girls to do the work; it is to get them to like math and ultimately consider a career in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) field.
  • Q: How do you do that?

    A: The way I’m teaching helps a lot. They really enjoy using the tablets and all of the technology, but it’s more than just that. It’s more of a confidence issue than anything. It’s a matter of convincing girls that they can be good at math and they are good at math. That’s a big part of it. There are a lot of people out there who influence girls’ decisions. They’ll say, “Oh, I loved school. I did this and this, but I was never good at math.” They almost say it with pride. You would never say, “I was never good at English,” or “I was never good at writing.” No one’s going to proclaim that, but it’s acceptable to proclaim not being good at math. That’s somehow OK. So I try to get them past that. It is OK to be good at math.
  • Q: How important is it for females to go into math-driven careers? What do they bring to the table?

    A: They often bring a different way of thinking about problems then their male counterparts. As our world grows more and more complicated, using different ways of approaching problems is going to be critical.

Dancing Queen: Cindy Montoya

When dance teacher Cindy Montoya joined the faculty in the fall of 2013, FSHA knew they were hiring a dynamo. As a performer and choreographer, her work has graced movie screens, television studios, stadium stages and even basketball courts (yes, she’s a former Laker’s Girl!). Luckily for FSHA, Cindy will add one more spectacular venue to her resume this spring when the Arts Center Remodel is completed. We caught up with Cindy who told us what it takes to put on FSHA’s largest performing arts event of the year—the annual Dance Concert.

List of 7 frequently asked questions.

  • Q: How did you first become interested in dance?

    A: Being raised in a Latino household, there was always music and dancing at family get-togethers and weddings. My parents were excellent dancers, not trained, but could cha-cha and jitterbug for days. But it wasn’t until I saw the musical, A Chorus Line, at the old Schubert Theater that I knew I wanted to dance more seriously. My mother supported my new passion so when she heard about an audition for a ballet company in Pasadena she encouraged me to go for it. My father drove me there and watched the audition. He was just as surprised as me when they told me that I had gotten accepted into the junior company. The director, Mrs. LeMone, later told me that she saw something in me—a hunger, a fearlessness and a true joy of dance that encouraged her to take a chance on a young girl from La Puente with no prior dance experience.
    I became the first Hispanic member and the first scholarship recipient of the respected Pasadena Dance Theater. My dance skills were honed and my love for dance was nurtured. She also encouraged me to audition for the UCLA Dance program. I got accepted and I am proud to say that I became the first college graduate in my family.
  • Q: The Dance Concert is a huge production. What are your goals every year when it comes to putting on such a big show?

    A: Every year, I put pressure on myself to make the next production even more artistically interesting and impactful. But my main goal is always to give the students an enriching experience—one that allows them to explore another medium of expression that involves the total self, while also fostering their creativity and self-confidence. I also want them to learn more about the art of dance, collaboration and hard work.
  • Q: You have a large number of boarding students involved in dance — more so than in past years. Why do you think that is?

    A: Taking the lead from my first dance teacher Mrs. LeMone, and my parents and teachers who supported me and encouraged me along the way, I tend to hone in to individuals who have a certain potential, not necessarily the best technicians—maybe it’s musically or a fearless character or simply an incredible connection to movement. If I see something there—a desire, a need to dance—I accept the student into the company. That stood out to me, so I took a chance last year with some of the boarders who didn’t have much prior dance training and it’s starting to pay off. They showed amazing growth this year and with a positive experience under their belt, I think they encouraged their friends in the boarding hall to audition. Next year, half of our leadership team will consist of boarders and half of the hip-hop team will be boarders.
  • Q: This year you created the Hip Hop and Liturgical dance teams. What was the inspiration behind that?

    A: I’ve always believed that dance is another way of praying. Having a strong faith and knowing that my path to teaching and dancing professionally only happened through the grace of God and a spiritual connection to my art, I have always wanted to bring dance and prayer together. Coming to FSHA the timing seemed right for a liturgical company. I now belonged to a faith community and so it was only natural to nurture the liturgical dance foundation that had been laid by previous FSHA dance teachers.
    The hip-hop team also came about in a natural way. I try to choreograph to my students’ strengths and I noticed that some of the dancers who weren’t formally trained had a natural ability and desire to dance hip-hop. In their spare time they would come to the studio, put on music and just freely dance, mostly hip-hop … and they were really good! I decided to recruit a group of girls from the junior and senior companies to create an informal hip-hop team and it was a success. Next year, the hip-hop team will be its own company with around 16 members and will meet twice a week, separate from the junior and senior companies. I’m really excited to see where this team goes in the future!
  • Q: What is your favorite part of working at FSHA?

    A: There are so many wonderful aspects of teaching at FSHA. The autonomy is wonderful and the faculty and parents are so warm and engaging. But I’d have to say that it’s the students who get me excited to come to work every day. They keep me on my toes, they challenge me, give me discipline and love and strength to keep teaching, to keep doing what I love. They are the heart and soul of the FSHA community!
  • Q: How did you come up with the "This I Am!" theme of the 2015 Dance Concert?

    A: The theme has to be something that excites and inspires me and it’s important that it allows for diversity in dance styles (as well as cultural diversity). Last year, I found myself discussing with colleagues and reading about many issues that had to do with identity. I started to think about my own path … where I came from and where I am going. As I shared my own experiences and questions with my students, a flood of complex and honest conversations started to form. Their stories and insight ignited my inspiration to settle on the identity theme: This I Am.
  • Cindy's career highlights include:

    World Tours: Paula Abdul, Michael Bolton, George Michael
    Film: “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” (choreographer), “American Beauty” (choreographer)
    TV: “The X-Factor” (choreographer), “The Tracey Ullman Show” (dancer/choreographer), “Live to Dance” (choreographer), Selena Coke commercial (choreographer)
    Professional Athletics: Laker’s Girl (dancer/choreographer), Rams Cheerleader (dancer/choreographer)

Risk & Research: Nora Murphy

What does it mean to be a college-preparatory high school, like Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy? According to Nora Murphy, FSHA’s librarian, it means that students are ready to handle the academic rigor that greets them as college freshman. And as Murphy knows, one major scholarly stumbling block for many freshman students is the dreaded research project.

To help the academic transition from high school to college, Murphy developed our four-year Research Program, which is designed to teach students the research skills they’ll be expected to know after they leave FSHA.

“We’re giving our students the permission to embrace the uncertainty. We’re asking them to feel the frustration and let it drive them to ask more questions, find more answers.” - Nora Murphy, librarian
According to Ms. Murphy, “FSHA’s research program allows students to master core research skills through repetitive practice. Rather than being hindered by the mechanical aspects of research, they can be intellectually curious about their chosen topics.” While there is some initial nervous pushback from students afraid of what the program entails, they are empowered by the freedom to choose topics of personal interest. Ms. Murphy elaborates, “We legitimize their interests by providing them the opportunity to research topics that may not have been covered in class otherwise.” As a result, students choose a broad range of topics such as Alzheimer’s disease, sexism in film, gun violence and gender misrepresentation in fan fiction.

List of 6 frequently asked questions.

  • Q: What is the Research Program?

    A: FSHA’s four-year Research Program was created to give students experience writing the types of papers they will be asked to write as soon as they enter their freshman year of college. We heard loud and clear from college-level instructors and librarians that freshmen were entering college without the mindset and skills required to carry out research papers. This capstone program represents our commitment to preparing our young women for university-level course work.
    We start by cultivating curious minds. We encourage students to blend personal interests with academic ones as they explore the complex systems that make up our modern world.
    We also emphasize core research skills, so students receive instruction in all grades on navigating academic databases, how to use predictive search methods to locate research material and the use of multiple electronic source documentation tools. 
  • Q: What are some of the challenges students face during the Research Program?

    A: It’s hard for the students, particularly after selecting a general topic, to narrow it down to a workable, debatable thesis after a long period of research. It’s a little uncomfortable for them as we’re flipping the process a little bit. We require that they wait a long time before claiming a thesis. They want to do that right up front, so they can find resources that match their thesis statement. We require that they spend 8-10 weeks doing deeper reading of the research material and create their thesis from what they find.

    Our students are also in need of permission to take intellectual risks. It’s very scary for them to do that. They really want you to tell them the answer all the time. The Reseasrch Program gives them permission to take those risks; it actually requires them to do so.

  • Q: What are some of your favorite projects?

    A: There are some really great projects. One student’s first idea was that she didn’t understand why young women didn’t want to identify as feminists. She identifies as a feminist and a lot of people don’t, so she wanted to look into that. At the same time, she became interested in ethnic heritage and ethnic diversity feminism. So now she’s writing a paper about the ways that the feminist movement has not appropriately addressed the racial and class issues of many American women. Her theory is that the feminist movement is really in jeopardy and losing people, young people, who aren’t identifying as feminists. It’s so complicated and amazing.

    Another student is researching the post-World War I era and the way that the crisis and the trauma following that war led to an artistic explosion. She’s looking at the way writers and artists, out of a sense of hopelessness and desperation, began to define and create their art differently. And she’s come to that conclusion on her own.

    What’s great about this project is that while some of these ideas aren’t new to us (those of us that have been around for a bit), the girls are just discovering them for the first time. There’s this moment when this student was talking to me about the post war trauma that everyone was feeling after WWI, the sense of fear and the loss of security and predictability in life, and she just looked at me and said, “But wait, at the same time people were starting to create this kind of art and this kind of music.” She realized this connection for the first time—and that is very exciting.

  • Q: Why do you think it’s important that high school girls learn the proper methods and the ways to do research?

    A: There’s an expectation at the very early college level, the freshman course level, that they’ll be able to do a number of things independently. It’s our responsibility to prepare our students for that. We need to keep in mind exactly what a college will expect and know that professors do not deliver instructions on these skills. There’s not a lesson in place on how to use the database and how to use the library. It’s just an expectation.

    There’s enough happening in their freshman year of college that’s stressful and learning how to do all of this here prepares them for a situation in college where these girls can be the ones on their dorm floor who say to their friends, “Oh, I know how to do that. Don’t worry. I’ll show you how.”

  • Q: What are some of the skills the students learn during the Research Program?

    A: Through the research process, they learn how to properly identify information online and use it; they learn how to do smart searches; how to evaluate the credibility of a source; they’ll think about the information that they’re using and how they are using it. They also need to know how to document a source; when to know to abandon or discard it; when to know that an anticipated thesis statement is no longer valid—all of those things need to become more automatic for our students.

  • Q: It’s obvious that you love working with the students on their research skills. What else do you love about FSHA? 

    A: I love that being here requires me to take intellectual risks all the time. I feel that I am challenged in the work I do in a different way than the work I did previous to coming here. Prior to coming here, I was in public education and I was very focused on living within a system. I had to cope with a lot of obstacles that were in the way of the real work … that I was never able to get to. Here I can get to the real work.

    I also love being part of a community that is committed to innovative curriculum design, that examines what we do as educators, and that constantly questions if what we’re doing is in line with our mission. We are careful and thoughtful, and that thoughtfulness is something truly valuable.

Kristina Ortega

Kristina Ortega knew about Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy long before she accepted the position as upper level religion teacher at the school. Raised in Hollywood, Ortega attended Immaculate Heart High School but had many friends that went to FSHA. “I knew that FSHA was a nurturing, warm environment that was all about empowering young women,” she says.

List of 6 frequently asked questions.

  • Q: What are you focusing in your religion classes now?

    A: Right now we are talking about world-view and getting the students to understand that where they come from uniquely affects how they see the world, even different from their best friends. Everyone has a unique world-view based on their past experiences, their culture, socio-economic, married, divorced, big or small family. Everyone sees the world in a different way. It’s kind of a new concept especially when they don’t have much to compare it to. They haven’t been outside of their normal. So the first step in seeing outside your little bubble. Next semester, we’ll talk about the unique contributions women make to spiritual life and how we approach matters of faith differently than men based on our unique experiences.
  • Q: What role do you think Catholic all-girls schools have in developing strong leaders within the church?

    A: A few years ago, when Sr. Celeste Botello, FSHA's principal, interviewed me for the position of twelfth grade religion teacher, she asked me why I wanted to teach at a Catholic all-girls school. I told her that, as a product of a Catholic all girls high school, I believed in the mission of girls’ schools forming confident leaders who know themselves and are sure of their own voices. The six years I spent as a student in an all-girls school were foundational to who I am today and the way I see the world and interact with those around me. Read more from Kristina Ortega on FSHA's blog.

  • Q: What do you hope your students will take from their experience in your religion classes?

    A: I hope that they take with them tools to approach their faith critically, and academically. Know that it’s not just believe A, B, and C because you’re supposed to. Know there’s a why, or they can find that why. Appreciation for being a woman and start to understand how women have been treated in history and turn that around and become positive role models for other girls, younger than they are.
  • Q: What value do you feel girls get from single-sex education?

    A: I think, definitely for girls, there’s just this authenticity that girls in a co-ed environment are afraid of. They are afraid to be themselves, or come to school without makeup, but on a deeper level they are afraid to be goofy or to let boys know that they are smart. I know that there are strong girls in co-ed schools, but in general I have found that it’s a safer environment for girls figuring out who they are and still being formed and I want to be part of that.
  • Q: What unique value do your international students bring to class discussions?

    A: My international students have been really great to have for discussions of world view. Unlike our day students, they have had the opportunity to live in their home countries and also see the American world-view. So they actually have a little bit more to contribute to that discussion than the day students. I think they have been waiting to say “You all think this is normal, but this is not how we do it in other parts of the world.” I am grateful for them to feel confident enough to speak up about their cultures. But the whole point of that lesson was that you have to meet people from other parts of the world to understand, appreciate and even address the problems of your own culture. They really added to that.
  • Q: What do you do outside of your teaching at FSHA?

    A: I do a lot of work with the Los Angeles Archdiocese and am really involved in the Religious Education Congress. I’m on the Liturgy Planning Team for Youth Day. I get to take three of our students to be part of that committee meetings to help design the liturgy. And I can take 10 of our dancers to dance at the liturgy in front of 10,000 people at the Anaheim Convention Center. I've also been dancing during the weekend long convention since I was three.

Faculty Facts

"I have to give thanks to all my teachers at FSHA, because they gave me the foundation to accomplish my dreams." -Natalie Holst '03
Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy is an all girls' Catholic, Dominican, independent, college-preparatory day and boarding high school in the hills of La Cañada Flintridge. Overlooking Pasadena, FSHA educates girls from Los Angeles, Southern California and around the world for a life of faith, integrity and truth. 

Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy

440 St. Katherine Drive
La Cañada Flintridge, CA 91011
Phone: 626-685-8300

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