Diocese’s new Catholic school principals share their background, vision

Eight Catholic schools in the Diocese of Peoria are welcoming new administrators as the 2016-17 academic year begins. Seven have accepted the job on a full-time basis, while one veteran is filling in for the fall semester only.

The new principals are: Laura Cody, St. Paul School, Macomb; Lisa Doughan, St. Thomas School, Philo; Jamie Hartrich, St. Mary School, Bloomington; Jackie Nieukirk, Costa Catholic Academy, Galesburg; Jason Schreder, The High School of Saint Thomas More, Champaign; and Jacob Smithers, Jordan Catholic School, Rock Island.

Joan Leonard, who had announced her retirement from Jordan Catholic in May, has decided to continue as a principal in diocesan schools. She has succeeded Scott Turnipseed at Our Lady of Grace Catholic Academy in East Moline.

Jerry Carls, who retired from Peru Catholic School in Peru a year ago, is returning to leadership on an interim basis at Trinity Catholic School in LaSalle. He will serve there until a new administrator is hired to replace Daniel Schmitt, who retired quietly in June.

Brief profiles of the new principals follow, along with their photos, information about their backgrounds and why Catholic education is so important.


LAURA CODY — St. Paul School, Macomb

Education: B.A. in Elementary Education, Morningside College (1990); M.S. in Education — Educational Leadership, Western Illinois University (2008)

14 NEW codyBackground: Cody taught second grade in the Woodbury Central School District, Moville, Iowa, from 1990 to 1991; sixth grade at St. Andrew School, Murphysboro, from 1991 to 1995; and sixth grade for the last 11 years at St. Paul School, Macomb.

Why teaching: I had great teacher role models growing up in a small community in northwest Iowa. My dream of being like my role models started very young. In high school I started teaching swim lessons and Vacation Bible School and I loved it. Working with children was a natural path for me.

Why Catholic education: I believe Catholic education allows the educator to teach the whole child. Being able to talk about the importance of God in our lives provides another layer of building the character, values and spirituality of our students.

Why St. Paul: Walking in the doors of St. Paul School you can immediately feel why it is a special place to be. We are a family. Our teachers are experts in their area and provide a loving, nurturing environment for the children to grow in their knowledge and faith. It is truly a blessing to be a part of St. Paul School!

Family: Cody and her husband, Tom, a professor in educational studies at Western Illinois University, are the parents of Ryan, 22, and Drew, 16. Both attended St. Paul School. The Codys are members of St. Paul Parish.


LISA DOUGHAN — St. Thomas School, Philo

Degrees: B.S. in Elementary Education and M.S. in Curriculum and Instruction: Reading, both from the University of Illinois; M.S. in Educational Leadership, Eastern Illinois University

14 NEW doughanBackground: Doughan taught kindergarten at the KinderCare Learning Center in Champaign from 1992 to 1994, and all ages at the Sylvan Learning Center in Champaign from 1994 to 1997. She taught reading and language arts and literature in Community Unit School District No. 4 in Paris for the last 18 years.

Why teaching: I have always loved reading and learning new things. Having the chance to teach students how to read so that they, too, can become lifelong learners is what drew me to teaching. Learning to read opens up the world for children; having the power to help in that is an amazing gift for which I am very thankful.

Why Catholic education: Evangelization is the mission of the church, and our Catholic schools are a place to encounter God each day. Through a Catholic education, we are able to blend each child’s academic and spiritual development in accordance with the educational mission and ministry of Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church. Christ is known, loved, and seen each day in our schools as teachers and administrators serve as witnesses to and models of the faith in both word and deed.

Why St. Thomas: St. Thomas School is such a special place. It is greatly loved and cared for by both its school families and parish community members who selflessly give their time and talents to keep St. Thomas School running smoothly and looking beautiful. The staff members are kind, thoughtful, hard-working people who work together as a team to serve as examples of our Catholic faith and to provide an excellent spiritual and academic foundation in a multi-age environment for all our students. They genuinely want what is best for our students instead of what is easiest for themselves. That generous servant spirit clearly shines in them. I am thrilled to now be a part of the St. Thomas family and feel very blessed that God has brought me here.

Family: Doughan isn’t the only administrator in the family. Her husband, Gary, is principal at Memorial School in Paris. They are members of St. Mary Parish in Paris, and their children, Nicholas, 8, and Carter, 6, attend St. Mary School.


JAMIE HARTRICH — St. Mary School. Bloomington

Degrees: Master’s degree in Educational Administration and Foundations, Preschool through 12th grade Educational Administration.

14 NEW hartrichBackground: Hartrich was the technology teacher at Tremont High School from 2000 to 2001. She came to St. Mary School as the technology coordinator and teacher in 2002.

Why teaching: Teaching isn’t a job for me, but a calling. I was drawn into teaching when I was a child. Watching children learn is why I love teaching. When a child begins to understand a concept and the “light bulb” comes on, it is incredible. My goal each school year is to make a difference and help students build their confidence and love for learning.

Why Catholic education: Catholic education is very important to me, because Catholic schools provide an experience that is transformational and makes a difference in the life of every student. It is a place where students learn all the academics, but our faith intertwined with reading, writing, math, science, social studies make the foundations more meaningful and connected to our lives. We can talk about God, pray and learn that we are not alone when walking through this world.

Why St. Mary: St. Mary’s is part of my family. From my own baptism to my children’s sacraments I have been at St. Mary’s. This is a place that I truly call home. My faith has truly evolved and I am blessed to be a part of St. Mary’s.

Family: Hartrich and her husband, Brett, have three children: Grace, 13; Garrett, 10; and Gabrielle, 6.


JACKIE NIEUKIRK — Costa Catholic Academy, Galesburg

Degrees: B.A. in Art, Eureka College (1992); B.S. in Education with art certification for grades six through 12, Bradley University (1996); M.S. in Education, Illinois State University (2006); currently enrolled in doctoral program in education at Aurora University

14 NEW nieukirkBackground: Nieukirk taught art or was the head of the art department at Washington Middle School, District 52 (1998-2000); Woodruff High School, District 150 (2000-03); and Washington Community High School, District 308 (2003-08). She was the assistant principal at Roosevelt Magnet School and Thomas Jefferson Elementary School, both in District 150. For the last six years she was the principal at Jones-Farrar International Baccalaureate World School, Freeport District 145.

Why Catholic education: Jesus Christ must be at the center of Catholic education. It is only through our belief in Jesus Christ that we have the opportunity for eternal life. . . . My Catholic philosophy of education deals with the essence of the human person as a child of God who is made in the image of God. I believe one of the ends or goals of Catholic education is to teach children to live well here and now so they can live with God in eternity. This means helping children to engage in culture/society in a specifically Christian way that contributes to the general welfare of society. . . .

Why Costa Catholic: Costa Catholic Academy believes that its foremost mission is to bring the living God into the hearts and minds of the students. Costa Catholic Academy seeks to accomplish this goal through rigorous instruction and, more importantly, by the way the faculty and staff conduct themselves in their daily lives. It is Costa’s mission to provide a well-rounded Catholic education based on excellence in academics and dedicated to the development of the whole child — spiritually, intellectually, and physically — that makes this school special to me.


JASON SCHREDER — The High School of Saint Thomas More, Champaign

Degrees: Bachelor’s degree in Social Studies with a Secondary Education minor, University of Illinois; master’s degree in Educational Administration, Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville

14 NEW schrederBackground: Schreder was a teacher and coached girls’ basketball and baseball at The High School of Saint Thomas More from 2008 to 2013. For the last three years he has been the faith formation director and coached girls’ basketball and baseball at Father McGivney Catholic High School in Glen Carbon.

Why teaching: Growing up I wanted to play professional sports and once I knew that I wasn’t blessed with those specific gifts, I wanted to coach to share a passion for sports with others and help them use those talents and skills they have for their sport to succeed. Since I had a desire to coach, teaching came with that and I had several teachers that influenced me, but my high school history teacher, Mrs. McVety at Princeton High School in Princeton really showed me what a teacher is: someone who has a passion for their subject and is able to connect that same passion with their students and help them grow as students. She was very influential in drawing me to teaching.

Why Catholic education: As I said, a teacher is someone who has a passion for their subject and is able to connect that same passion with their students and help them grow as students. In a Catholic setting we are able to take that one step further in forming the student (and staff) as a disciple of Christ. Jesus met the people where they were at in the Gospels and all the saints throughout history, and so we as teachers model Christ in that way, meeting the students where they are at and helping them grow in many areas of life — physically, intellectually, morally and spiritually — to become the saint God created them to be. If a Catholic school is doing that we are forming disciples who then are going out into the world and building up the Kingdom, which our world so needs and desires.

Why Saint Thomas More: The High School of Saint Thomas More gave me my start in my professional career as a teacher and coach, as well as helped me grow in my journey of faith. Having that familiarity and having been a part of it and seeing what it was and what the students and staff were doing really drew me back to the school to know what we can be and where we can go. . . .

Family: Schreder has been married to his wife, Morgan, for seven years. They are the parents of Noah, 5, and Mae, 2, and are looking forward to welcoming their third child in late September.


JACOB SMITHERS — Jordan Catholic School, Rock Island

Degrees: B.A. in Elementary Education, North Central College; M.S. in Education, Western Illinois University

14 NEW smithers 2Background: Smithers taught in the Romeoville School District from 2001 to 2002, the Plainfield School District from 2002 to 2003, and the Sherrard School District, where he was also dean of students, from 2005 to 2012. He served as the assistant principal at Alleman High School in Rock Island last year.

Why teaching: A kindergarten teacher with whom I was volunteering while in college talked with me extensively about the positive impact she was able to have on children during her teaching career. I love working with children and being able to see them grow.

Why Catholic education: When students are able to live their lives both in and out of school with the purpose of serving others, their lives become more meaningful. Catholic education provides a foundation above the rest in preparing our future leaders to be successful contributors in society.

Why Jordan Catholic: The potential at Jordan Catholic School is endless. The families and community are very supportive of our mission and are leading the way with faith-filled goals.

Family: Smithers and his wife, Dr. Regina Nonnemann, have three children: Grace, Olivia and Andrew. They are members of St. Pius X Parish in Rock Island.

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