School administrators take their places for start of 2019-2020 academic year
If it’s August, then school uniforms are probably being washed and pressed and backpacks filled in preparation for the first day of school. Students at seven schools around the Diocese of Peoria will find new principals waiting to greet them when they report for classes.
Among them are Sister M. Bridget Martin, FSGM, at The High School of Saint Thomas More and Phil Sexton at Holy Cross School, both in Champaign; Wayne Brau at Visitation Catholic School in Kewanee; Bill Lamb at St. Mary School in Kickapoo; and Sara Stroud at Alleman High School in Rock Island.
Two new administrative teams have also been formed. Rick Pantages, recently retired as principal at St. Mary School in Kickapoo, has been named principal at Corpus Christi School in Bloomington. He joins Adrienne Wilson, vice principal, and Judy Clark, assistant principal.
Richard Morehouse, who had been administrator at Corpus Christi, as well as St. Paul in Odell, will be at the Odell school full time this year.
At Peru Catholic School in Peru, Dan Schmitt, who retired as principal at Trinity Catholic Academy in LaSalle in 2016, will serve as interim principal. Working with him as assistant principal will be Jane Weberski, who retired from teaching at Peru Catholic in May.
SISTER M. BRIDGET MARTIN, FSGM
While she’s new to the principal’s office, Sister M. Bridget isn’t really new to The High School of Saint Thomas More. She taught U.S. history, psychology and sociology there from 2016 to 2018, and freshman theology and sociology during the 2018-19 school year.
She holds a bachelor’s degree in history with a concentration in secondary education and a minor in theology, and a master’s degree in catechetics and evangelization, both from Franciscan University of Steubenville.
She met members of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George on the bus from St. Louis to Washington, D.C., for the March for Life when she was a freshman in college. Sister M. Bridget said she was immediately drawn to them because of their joy and youthfulness.
“Every day has been an adventure and has taken me to places I never would have imagined, and I have met people who have changed my life.” — Sister M. Bridget
Sister M. Bridget said she knew from a young age that she wanted to be a teacher and originally studied special education. She switched to secondary education when she entered religious life.
Her experience includes teaching elementary and middle school in Alton, Illinois; Hastings, Nebraska; and Lenexa, Kansas. She also served as a campus minister and in-house substitute teacher at a Catholic high school in New Jersey.
She had played softball, basketball, soccer and volleyball, but took up bowling in high school and was so good that she received college scholarships. “I also took up officiating soccer and basketball games and coaching volleyball,” she said.
“Every day has been an adventure and has taken me to places I never would have imagined, and I have met people who have changed my life,” Sister M. Bridget said. “One of the places I never would have imagined myself is here as the principal of The High School of Saint Thomas More, but I do not doubt that it is God’s will for me!”
Phil Sexton was drawn to teaching by watching his father work as a teacher and school administrator.
“I admired what and how he was able to reach out to his students and have an impact on their lives,” he said. “I also like how young at heart teaching keeps you. It gives you energy to come and teach students every day.”
In addition to making you a life-long learner, teaching allows you to give back to society, Sexton said.
“I was always drawn to education because it let me have a real lasting impact on my students’ lives by helping them realize their potential, and no two days in teaching are ever the same!” — Phil Sexton
Sexton has a bachelor’s degree in physical education and driver safety education, and a master’s degree in educational administration, both from Eastern Illinois University.
He has taught and coached at Mount Carmel High School, Urbana Middle School, and Champaign Centennial High School and Central High School, as well as the Savannah School District, Dwight High School, and the Petersburg School District. He was an administrator at Greenview School District, Pontiac High School and Schlarman Academy in Danville.
“What drew me to Holy Cross School is that they encompass ‘Learn, Serve, Lead and Succeed,’” Sexton said. “They are a faith-centered community fostering lives of service, integrity and life-long learners.”
He added that Catholic schools are a tight-knit community of teachers, students, parents and administrators, “who share in the faith and truly care about each other.” Using God’s gifts, they are able “to develop 21st century skills of innovation, collaboration, problem solving, and reasoning to enrich the global society.”
Sexton grew up in Champaign and is a graduate of Centennial High School. Married, he has a daughter who attends Illinois State University, a stepson who will be attending the University of Illinois, and a son who is entering his junior year of high school.
He is a member of Holy Cross Parish.
Wayne Brau holds a degree in physical education, health and driver’s education with an emphasis in coaching from the University of Northern Iowa, and a master’s degree from St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa.
His first job out of college took him to Annawan School District No. 226, where he taught for 22 years and then served as the grade school principal for 11 years. Brau has a great love of sports and used it to coach high school football and track, and junior high basketball. He also served as athletic director for five years.
“I believe with my religious faith and my experience in education, Visitation would be a good fit.” — Wayne Brau
Brau retired in May, but Visitation principal Sheila Cromien had been talking to him to see if he would be interested in succeeding her when she retired. “I believe with my religious faith and my experience in education, it would be a good fit,” he said.
Brau and his wife Jana have two daughters, Shelby (Anthony) Nordstrom, who lives in Charleston, South Carolina, and Lakin Brau, who is in her senior year at Trinity Nursing School in Rock Island. They are also the legal guardians for three boys, Paxton and Parker, 7, and Dannah, 4.
A member of Sacred Heart Church in Annawan, Brau is an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, and faith formation teacher. He said he looks forward to being active at Saint John Paul II Parish in Kewanee.
Bill Lamb attended St. Philomena School and Bergan High School (Class of 1980), both in Peoria, and served as a tutor at St. Philomena to earn community service hours while at Bergan. “This experience of working with students was so fulfilling that I made up my mind then of my future career,” he said.
The experience of tutoring students while attending Bergan High School was so fulfilling, that it set him on the path to becoming a teacher.
Lamb taught high school math at East Leyden in Franklin Park and East Peoria High School, and was named dean there in 1999. He would go on to serve as principal at Dee-Mack High School from 2003 to 2013, and was principal at Stark County Junior High and High School from 2013 until last spring.
“As I neared retirement from public education, but still with a young family — two seventh grade sons — at home, I looked into Catholic schools that were in need of a math teacher or principal,” he said. St. Mary School in Kickapoo was the right school at the right time.
Lamb has been married to his wife Angie for 35 years and they have two grown children, Carley, 30, and Aimee, 27. They weren’t done being parents, however.
“Through my wife’s experience teaching English as a Second Language in Wyoming, we had wonderful experiences with so many international students (and) began to look into international adoptions,” he said. “We fell in love with two young boys from China that urgently needed a home, and a year later we brought them into our home. They are now both starting eighth grade and love, love, love school.”
Lamb and his family belong to St. Jude Parish in Peoria.
Sara Stroud is no stranger to Alleman High School. The Geneseo native’s aunts and uncles graduated from the Rock Island school and her father studied there.
“I’m so looking forward to the opportunities I have here at Alleman and I hope to stay here a very long time.” — Sara Stroud
Stroud said teaching has always been a part of who she is. The oldest of four girls, she would often set up a classroom and be the teacher for her siblings, she recalled.
The only other profession she considered? Being a bus driver, which looked pretty good to her when she was in the third grade.
Stroud graduated from the University of Iowa in 1999 with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a reading endorsement. She received her master’s degree in educational administration from St. Ambrose University in 2017.
Her experience includes teaching a variety of students at Camp Pendleton in California for three years, and then at Millikin Elementary School in Geneseo for 11 years. She gained leadership experience there, thanks to the superintendent, who saw her potential and encouraged her.
Last year she worked as a school administration manager at Jackson Elementary School in Davenport, Iowa.
Along the way she has coached softball and soccer.
Married for 20 years to her husband Brian, Stroud said she saw what Catholic schools can do when they sent Kain, the youngest of their three children, to St. Malachy School in Geneseo. He’ll be in third grade this year.
When his teacher asked the students what their favorite part of school was, he said “Mass!”
“I can tell you that it has been life changing for our family,” Stroud said about the fellowship there and being surrounded by people that make Christ a priority.
The opportunity to lead Alleman High School is God’s work, according to Stroud, who called it “a blessing.”
“God had a plan. Everything I’ve done in my life has led to this moment,” she said.
“As long as I stay close to him and keep my mind and heart open to the direction he’d like for me to take, things will go very well,” she said.
Stroud’s administrative team includes Kelly McLaughlin, the new assistant principal. She brings 15 years of experience in education and leadership to Alleman, most recently as a school administration manager at Garfield Elementary School in Davenport.