1. The Education Gradebook

Nativity gears up for Novemberfest with new principal


As students wait for their parents to pick them up, a youthful man bounces between clusters of children to play rock-paper-scissors.

He's 29 but looks 10 years younger.

Robert Yevich does not fit the mold of the typical Catholic school principal.

But he now leads more than 600 students at Nativity Catholic School. Just months into the job, the first-year principal already has left a mark with his energy and enthusiasm as the parish gears up for Novemberfest, Brandon's largest annual event.

Choosing a profession in education was not a far-off choice for Yevich, whose mother recently retired from a 37-year stretch in various positions in education for the Diocese of St. Petersburg.

"Watching her as kind of a role model inspired me, and my father was also a recreation director and retired now for about the same amount of time," Yevich said. "So watching both of their involvement with children and just seeing their satisfaction and the difference that it made in their own lives kind of inspired me to do the same thing."

After completing his high school education at St. Petersburg Catholic High School, Yevich went on to study elementary education at the University of South Florida and later received his master's degree in leadership from the University of Notre Dame.

Nativity finance director Rob Martin, part of the committee that chose Yevich to be the principal following the departure of Julie Tipton, recalls a special enthusiasm when Yevich joined the room.

"We saw that he's just one of the up-and-comers and he's going to take us somewhere and do great things for Nativity," Martin said. "It's incredible how the kids have bought into it, the teachers have bought into it and we're confident that we've made a great decision because of how quickly he was welcomed into the family. It feels like he's been here a lot longer than just a couple of months."

Though his age may suggest a lack of experience, Yevich spent two years as an assistant principal at St. Petersburg's Holy Family Catholic School. And his youthfulness gives him an advantage, as evidenced by the fist bumps to middle school students in the hallways.

"I think being younger, it plays to my benefit because I think I'm easily approachable, and I want to be," Yevich said. "I think that I can also relate to them and they can relate to me.

"However, with that being said, the preparation and the coursework that I went through at the University of Notre Dame made me confident in doing the job."

One of the major tasks ahead of Yevich in his new role is leading the charge for Novemberfest. The 46th annual festival begins Wednesday and concludes Nov. 22.

"We're really trying to just increase ourselves as a presence not only in the local Brandon area, but as a part of the bigger community," said Martin.

Stewardship and communications coordinator Cindy Ehringer said the major focus has been on social media.

"Facebook is one of the bigger ways that we've reached out this year. Our likes on Facebook have blown up this year," Ehringer said. "Using the hashtags on social media is something new that we've done to reach out to the younger people and people who use social media."

As a first-time attendee himself, Yevich is looking forward to getting to know the families of Brandon and introducing them to Nativity. He's already built a rapport with many of the school's students.

At the end of a recent school day, Yevich took time to visit classrooms, finding elementary students chattering and competing for his attention upon entering the room.

"Learn with zeal!" they shout back to him when he prompts with "Teach with zeal."

He says those relationships he's building, drives him to wake up in the morning.

"I feel like this is just a vocation, being able to help them and inspire them," Yevich said. "I tell the kids I have two goals for them, college and heaven. So if I can help them reach those two goals that's what it's all about for me."

Contact Kelsey Sunderland at