Meet the six new principals at Catholic schools in diocese

Catholic schools in Bloomington, Galesburg, Kickapoo, Peoria and Rock Island have new principals ready to greet students as classes begin for the 2014-15 school year.

Bringing decades of experience and a love for the faith with them are: Sean Foster, Central Catholic School, Bloomington; Steve Eisemann, Costa Catholic Academy, Galesburg; Rick Pantages, St. Mary School, Kickapoo; Randy Simmons, Notre Dame High School, and Patsy Santen, St. Vincent de Paul School, both in Peoria; and Joan Leonard, Jordan Catholic School, Rock Island.

Just before teachers and students were due to report to school, The Catholic Post asked the administrators to talk about what attracted them to teaching, to Catholic education and to their new posts. Their responses follow.

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SEAN FOSTER, Central Catholic High School, Bloomington

Degrees: B.F.A. in Graphic Design and B.A. in Spanish, University of Tulsa, Oklahoma (2004); M.A. in Theology and Christian Ministry, Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio (2007); M.A. in Educational Administration, University of Notre Dame (2012)

Background: Taught theology and coached junior varsity boys’ basketball for the last five years at Central Catholic High School and was associate principal there last year. Prior to that served as director of intellectual formation at St. John Paul II Newman Center at Illinois State University and on the RCIA team at Historic St. Patrick Church, Bloomington.

Why teaching: My desire to become a teacher came from my time at the St. Philip Neri Newman Center on the campus of the University of Tulsa. I met a few people who genuinely and joyfully lived their Catholic faith. This encounter instilled in me a desire to share what was given to me. That is what led me to become a theology teacher.

Why Catholic education: I simply love my faith. I can honestly say that I want nothing more in life than to share my love of Christ and His Church with everyone whom I meet. I have had the opportunity to do this for the past seven years in the Diocese of Peoria as a campus minister, RCIA catechist, and high school teacher. I’m excited to continue my service in my new role as principal.

Why Central Catholic: I’ve had the opportunity to teach at CCHS for the past five years. During this time I’ve developed great relationships with students, parents, faculty and staff, and others throughout the community. I met my wife here and we started a family here. Bloomington has become my home. I can’t imagine working anywhere else.

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STEVE EISEMANN, Costa Catholic Academy, Galesburg

Degrees: B.A. in Chemistry, Knox College (1977); M.S. in Educational Administration, Western Illinois University (1981)

Background: Thirty-five years with Galesburg District 205, including six years as a science teacher at Churchill Junior High, six years as a dean and counselor at Galesburg High School, and 23 years as assistant principal there.

Why Costa Catholic: Although I did not attend Catholic schools for my education, I have had four children receive the benefit of being educated at Costa Catholic School. Each of the four received a solid academic foundation in a caring and spiritual environment. In my former life as assistant principal at Galesburg High School I was afforded the opportunity to observe numerous classes of Costa students enter GHS. There were many years I stood in front of the group of eighth grade students and told them they were prepared to compete with the best students from the other schools in District 205 and they also had the advantage of knowing what it meant to work hard, study hard and balance their academics with activities and athletics. I watched many of those students go on to be leaders at GHS. I observed not only their academic preparation, but also their involvement in athletics, service and faith-based pursuits. I would like to be a part of maintaining the quality job for which Costa is known in the areas of service and faith while ensuring that Costa retains its reputation for preparing academically excellent students.

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RICK PANTAGES, St. Mary School, Kickapoo

Degrees: B.S. in Junior High Education (1979) and M.S. in Educational Administration (1983), both from Illinois State University

Background: Thirty-four years as a teacher at Parkview Junior High, Creve Coeur; Pioneer Junior High, Dunlap; Hines Elementary School, Peoria; Lincoln School, East Peoria; and White Middle School and Von Steuben Middle School, both in Peoria; and one year as an aide at Jefferson Elementary School, Morton.

Why teaching: I had a seventh and eighth grade science teacher that left an impression on me when I was a student many years ago. I also have a love for working with children and that drove me to become a teacher.

Why Catholic education: All three of my children attended St. Thomas the Apostle School in Peoria Heights and Notre Dame High School in Peoria. My wife also attended Catholic schools. I saw the great care and spiritual guidance that they received in a Catholic school setting and I wanted to continue my career in that type of caring environment.

Why St. Mary: St. Mary School has a long, outstanding tradition of spiritual and academic success. I am also blessed to be under the guidance of an amazing priest, Father Joe Dondanville. His guidance and passion for the parish and the school are very inspiring. I have been welcomed with open arms by the teachers, secretaries, parents and members of the parish.

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RANDY SIMMONS, Notre Dame High School, Peoria

Degrees: B.S. in Education and M.S. in Education, both from Bradley University

Background: Thirty-five years in Peoria Public Schools, including work as principal at Calvin Coolidge Middle School for three years, Peoria High School for seven years, and Von Steuben Middle School for two years. Served as assistant principal at Peoria Notre Dame last year.

Why teaching: Love of children.

Why Catholic education: Love of our faith and to give back for the formation it provided my children.

Why Peoria Notre Dame: This is a dream job. As a Catholic, I am now able to lend my experience to one of the very best schools, not only in Peoria but in the entire state of Illinois.

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PATSY SANTEN, St. Vincent de Paul School, Peoria

Degrees: Bachelor’s degree in Special Education, University of Missouri (1974); master’s degree in Special Education with Administrative Endorsement, Illinois State University (1994)

Background: Taught special education in Missouri from 1975 to 1983, at the Peoria Developmental Center and Irving Primary School in Peoria from 1985 to 1993, and was the Title I lead teacher at Irving Primary School from 2000 to 2005. Served as assistant principal at Glen Oak School in Peoria for six months in 2005, principal at Thomas Jefferson School in Peoria from 2005 to 2013, and director of preschool for the Regional Office of Education from 2013 to 2014.

Why teaching: I always loved interacting with and helping children. I worked at several camps as a teenager and during my college years. I loved seeing the growth and establishing relationships with children as we learned from each other. I also played “school” a lot when I was young and I was always the teacher!

Why Catholic education: I went to Catholic schools through my high school years; so did my own children. I have witnessed the well-rounded education a Catholic school can offer both academically and spiritually. . . .

Why St. Vincent de Paul: I felt I had the administrative skills and experience to guide the St. Vincent de Paul School community to new heights in education. With my Catholic upbringing and with the Lord’s guidance, I also felt I had the spiritual skills to lead the students and teachers along the religious path. Every child has a right to a good, quality education. I know St. Vincent has always provided that excellent, high quality religious and academic education. By working together with the parents, students, and staff, we will continue to make the education at St. Vincent de Paul far exceed the expectations both spiritually and educationally. . . .

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JOAN LEONARD, Jordan Catholic School, Rock Island

Degrees: Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and Psychology, Loras College (1976); master’s degree in Educational Administration, Winona State University (1987)

Background: Involved in Catholic education for 39 years — 10 as a teacher and 29 as a principal — in the Archdiocese of Dubuque, Diocese of Des Moines, Diocese of Rockford, Diocese of La Crosse, Diocese of Pueblo, and Diocese of Madison.

Why Catholic education: I became a teacher and principal within a Catholic school setting because I love to work with children and I am called to share my Catholic faith on a daily basis with students and staff members.

Why Jordan Catholic: Rock Island is close to my hometown of Dubuque, Iowa, which allows me to be actively a caretaker for my 90-year-old mother. Also, Jordan Catholic School has an excellent reputation for being a Catholic school of solid academics and a vibrant faith community! It has already begun to feel like home to me.

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Related stories:

Principals are commissioned as new year begins

Strategic vision reveals faith in the future of Catholic schools

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