New academic year brings 11 new leaders to Catholic schools around the diocese

The new leaders of Catholic schools in the Diocese of Peoria include (front row, from left) Trevor Knipe, administrator at Sts. Peter and Paul School in Nauvoo; Jeanette Holmes, principal, St. Thomas School in Philo; Dr. Susie Cicciarelli, interim principal at Peoria Notre Dame High School; Melissa Scholl, principal at Blessed Sacrament School in Morton; and Victoria McCollum, principal at Our Lady of Grace Catholic Academy, East Moline, and (back row, from left) Grant McInnis, chief operating officer at Peoria Notre Dame; Julie Hampton Purl, lead teacher at Costa Catholic Academy, Galesburg; Sarah Hogan, principal at St. Vincent de Paul, Peoria; Chris McGraw, principal at Central Catholic High School, Bloomington, and Ron Kiesewetter, principal at St. Mary School, Metamora. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

A new academic year is bringing new leadership to 10 Catholic schools within the Diocese of Peoria. That includes some creative approaches to staffing and strengthening the head office at two diocesan high schools.

The new principals are Jeanette Holmes at St. Thomas School, Philo; Sarah Hogan at St. Vincent de Paul School, Peoria; Ron Kiesewetter at St. Mary School, Metamora; Victoria McCollum at Our Lady of Grace Catholic Academy, East Moline; and Melissa Scholl at Blessed Sacrament, Morton. Trevor Knipe will serve as the administrator at Sts. Peter and Paul School, Nauvoo, and Julie Hampton Purl will be the lead teacher and manager of administrative operations at Costa Catholic Academy, Galesburg.

Chris McGraw has joined the staff at Central Catholic High School in Bloomington, where he succeeds Sean Foster as principal. Foster begins the school year in his new role as president of the school.

At Peoria Notre Dame High School, Dr. Susie Cicciarelli will serve as interim principal for the 2022-2023 academic year. Grant McInnis, who has a business background, has been named chief operating officer.

At St. Bede Academy in Peru, which is owned and operated by the Benedictines of St. Bede Abbey, Nick McLaughlin has succeeded Michelle Mershon as principal.

In other news, Jane Barrett, principal at Seton Catholic School, Rock Island, and Mike Lootens, retired principal of Epiphany School, Normal, will continue as co-principals at Alleman High School in Rock Island until a new principal is found.

Following are brief profiles for the new leaders.

JEANETTE (JEAN) HOLMES I St. Thomas School, Philo

Holmes succeeds Lisa Doughan, who has returned to the classroom at a school a little closer to home.

Degrees: Associate degree in accounting, Parkland College, Champaign (1992); bachelor’s degree in education (1994) and master’s degree in technology (2004), both from Eastern Illinois University, Charleston; master’s degree in educational administration, Grand Canyon University, Phoenix, Arizona.

Experience: Teacher at Lovington High School, Lovington (1994-2005); Atwood-Hammond High School, Atwood (2005-07); Tuscola High School, Tuscola (2007-22).

Why teaching? I was attracted to teaching by helping others learn. It is so satisfying!

Why Catholic education? I was attracted to Catholic education because I love the idea of sharing my faith along with my knowledge.

Why St. Thomas? I was attracted to St. Thomas because it is such a great community and church. Everyone is genuinely caring and happy!

Looking forward to: I am looking forward to working with the students and staff!

SARAH HOGAN I St. Vincent de Paul School, Peoria

Hogan succeeds Patsy Santen, who has retired after eight years as principal.

Degrees: Bachelor’s degree in elementary education; and a master’s degree in teaching and leadership. She is working on her master’s degree in P-12 educational administration.

Experience: Hogan has worked at St. Vincent de Paul School for 19 years, 11 of them as director of religious education for the parish and school.

Why teaching? My attraction to teaching grew from a love for children and a desire to help them grow to their God-given potential.

Why Catholic education? St. Vincent de Paul has been my lifelong parish, but as a product of public education, I was unaware of the great gift of Catholic education. In fact, my initial application was submitted only to appease a family friend who relentlessly pressured me to apply. I accepted the position with thoughts of staying for only a year.

During that first year of teaching, my heart was widened to many things. I first fell in love with the St. Vincent de Paul Catholic School community, a close-knit family of faith who cares for each other with the love of Christ. I then became deeply invested in the noble mission of Catholic education and the eternal impact it can have on a child. And finally, I fell in love more deeply with the person of Jesus Christ, His Church, and the faith that I was called to live and teach. In many ways, I owe my growth in faith, and the peace and joy I experience from it to this school, so I am deeply committed to assuring its continued growth and success.

Looking forward to: I am so excited to further the mission of St. Vincent de Paul Catholic School. I look forward to pouring into the faculty and staff, supporting them in their spiritual, professional, and personal needs, and growing together so as to best serve the children entrusted to us.

RON KIESEWETTER I St. Mary School, Metamora

Kiesewetter sits in the office formerly occupied by Rich Koehler, who has succeeded Julie Schmitt as principal at Peru Catholic School, Peru.

Degrees: A bachelor’s in music education, Illinois Wesleyan University, Bloomington; master’s in music education, Illinois State University, Normal; master’s in education administration, Concordia University, River Forest; master’s in education administration with superintendent certification, Lamar University, Beaumont, Texas.

Experience: Taught one year at Harrison Elementary District 36, Wonder Lake; 15 years at Metamora Township High School, Metamora; and three years as a teacher and fine arts assistant division chair, Lyons Township High School, LaGrange. Principal at Roanoke-Benson High School, Yorkville High School, Minooka Community High School, and, most recently, Metamora Township High School.

Why teaching? I was attracted to teaching because I wanted to make a positive difference in the life of children. I love the process of learning, teaching and seeing the growth of students.

Why Catholic education? Growing up Catholic, I always enjoyed and appreciated the belief in the potential of the children within the church and in the Catholic schools. There was always a genuine commitment to education by the church!

Why St. Mary? I grew up in Metamora and always had great respect for the families and teachers that were part of the educational and athletic traditions at St. Mary’s. I am incredibly excited to be part of the legacy and opportunities that come from this school and church!

Looking forward to: I am looking forward the most to meeting the students and their families and working with the outstanding staff at St. Mary’s.

VICTORIA (TORI) MCCOLLUM I Our Lady of Grace Catholic Academy, East Moline

Degrees: Bachelor’s degree in Spanish with a minor in fine arts and life sciences, Loyola University Maryland (2003); master’s degree in teaching secondary Spanish, Johns Hopkins University (2005); master’s degree in educational leadership, St. Ambrose University (2021).

Experience: I first taught with Teach for America in Baltimore, K-8 at Cherry Hill Elementary/Middle School (2003-05); New Town High School, Owings Mills, Maryland (2005-09); Lourdes Catholic School, Bettendorf, Iowa, K-8 Spanish teacher and enrichment coordinator (2018-22). During a hiatus from formal education, she worked as a doula and grew an agency serving families with childbirth education and doula services in Virginia (2011-18).

Why teaching? I have always found myself in the position of leader, and really felt called to the mission of addressing the achievement gap that often exists in inner-city and rural schools. I wanted to use my experience to help leave the world better than I found it.

Why Catholic education? I will forever credit the myriad of teachers I knew growing up with paving the road to my working in education, but the experiences I had at Loyola University in Maryland interacting with those who had undertaken Holy Orders or who were called to the Consecrated Life, they are the ones who led me to see that we need to be working as the hands and feet of Jesus on this side of Heaven. It is our responsibility to take what we know in our hearts and what we learn in the classroom, and move it into the world. I honestly wouldn’t have thought I would love teaching in Catholic schools when I started — I was a product of public education, and had taught in public schools for years.  But getting to pray with my students, to wrap them in God’s love and to help them see how they can live out His call to their hearts to strive for holiness, that is something that I never would have guessed I was missing until I had it.

Why Our Lady of Grace? The people and the mission: “Enter to Learn, Exit to Serve.” Our Lady of Grace is a fantastic school with a powerful history of community and Christ-centered connection. After praying on it, I felt that I was being called to bring all of my skills, academic, business, and leadership to work to continue to build on the foundation created by those before me. I have the vision and the voice, and the passion to help this small but mighty school grow in numbers, connection and dedication to God.

Looking forward to: I cannot wait to meet all of the students. This year is going to be a great one of growth. While we are focusing on really improving our STEAM curriculum and offerings, I am most looking forward to getting to know each of the incredible families and the students entrusted to our care here at Our Lady of Grace Catholic Academy.

MELISSA SCHOLL I Blessed Sacrament School, Morton

Scholl succeeds Mike Birdoes, who has retired after 30 years at Blessed Sacrament School and before that, St. Vincent de Paul School in Peoria.

Degrees: Bachelor’s degree in elementary education (2012) and a master’s degree in educational administration (2021), both from Illinois State University, Normal.

Experience: This will be my 11th year in education. I taught third grade for three years in Decatur Public Schools and have spent the last seven years teaching fourth grade at Blessed Sacrament.

Why teaching? Teaching is forever changing and evolving. I enjoy being able to learn and grow every day!

Why Catholic education? Catholic education allows teachers, students, and families to share their faith freely. Centering the day around God brings everyone together for a greater purpose.

Why Blessed Sacrament? Blessed Sacrament School has a very supportive community filled with people of faith.

Looking forward to: I am looking forward to having the opportunity to work with teachers and students in all grade levels!

TREVOR KNIPE I Sts. Peter and Paul School, Nauvoo

Knipe succeeds Lisa Gray, who retired after 14 years.

Degrees: Bachelor’s degree in sports management and business administration with a minor in accounting, MacMurray College (2018).

Experience: I was the district accountant for the public school in Nauvoo prior to this. This is my first administrator job!

Why Catholic education? The specialty of our school is what attracted me to apply for the job. The importance to teach our kids not only educational but spiritual learning is what attracts me to Catholic education.

Why Sts. Peter and Paul? It is where I attended elementary school. I just remember all of the great memories and want to continue that traditional feeling of the school.

Looking forward to: To show people in our great community how amazing our school can be and continue to grow what is already a special place!

JULIE HAMPTON PURL I Costa Catholic Academy, Galesburg

Degrees: Bachelor’s degree in elementary education, Olivet Nazarene University, Kankakee (1986).

Experience: She has taught fourth and fifth grade at Costa Catholic Academy for more than 32 years.

Why teaching? While teaching Sunday School classes as a high school student, I realized I had a desire to work with children. I have always enjoyed working with children.

Why Catholic education? As a high school sophomore, many of my classmates were graduates of Costa’s junior high school. These classmates set themselves apart from others by their actions, their faith, academics, leadership, and character. I credit Costa for its exceptional faith formation and solid educational foundation.

Why Costa Catholic Academy? I had the desire to teach students in a religious/parochial school setting. I love praying with students and sharing my faith with them.

Looking forward to: I look forward to serving the school to which I have dedicated my teaching career. It is a privilege to work with such a dedicated and talented group of faculty and staff.

HIGH SCHOOL LEADERSHIP

CHRIS McGRAW I Central Catholic High School, Bloomington

The move to a president/principal model at Central Catholic comes after nearly two years of research and planning. It is designed to allow Sean Foster, who had been the principal since 2014 and is now the president, to develop and implement the school’s long-term strategic vision. New principal Chris McGraw will oversee the day-to-day administration of Central Catholic.

Degrees: Master’s degree in P-12 educational administration (2013), master’s degree in art education (2012), and bachelor’s degree in art education, sequence in painting (2004), all from Illinois State University, Normal.

Experience: Visual art and digital media teacher, Chiddix Junior High School (2006-14); associate principal and athletic director, Evans Junior High School, Bloomington (2014-17); principal, Evans Junior High School (2017-22).

Why teaching? I come from a family of teachers, and I have always believed my main role as an educator is not only a resource and leader, but also a meaning-maker. I have always enjoyed utilizing the participatory, shared nature of education to affect those I serve. Teaching, in my opinion, is a way of affecting people. It is qualities, talents, and abilities that are used for creating meaning, inspiring, influencing, and changing others. My belief is that people buy in to ideas, theories, philosophies and initiatives once they understand, or can make meaning of them. As an educator, I always am amazed at the power of working through collaborative, passionate, and collective means to help to create meaning for others. My hope, as an educator, is to influence, catalyze, and serve others.

Why Catholic education? When done well, Catholic education creates an environment that supports the God-given intrinsic motivations our youth hold toward success by providing a Christ-centered disposition of genuine hope, joy, and service through the modeling of individuals both within the school walls and the “army of saints” beyond them. Catholic education, which provides Christ-centered academic, emotional, and social opportunities, is able to frame students’ daily experiences in ways beyond a worldly setting that give the school community — students, staff members, and families — both participation in the evangelical mission of the Church, as well as hope, meaning, and freedom within their Catholic identity. As St. John Chrysostom is quoted, “The only person who is free is the one who lives for Christ.” From this foundation and freedom, successful learning, loving, and living is possible, as the person who lives for Christ is truly equipped for intellectual, religious, and human formation not only of him or herself, but the formation of Christ in the lives of others, too.

Why Central Catholic? The mission, vision, structure, and values of Central Catholic High School were attractive to me. The president/principal model allows the principal to be fully invested in the most critical aspects of the school — the people. This model allows me to fully invest in the staff, students and families. I truly believe passion and personality build a thriving school. The president/principal model, along with Central Catholic’s “uniques” of Catholic identity, a tight-knit school community, and high expectations for personal and academic success allow formation, inspiration and learning to happen. Despite the notion that standardization, mechanized structure, and quantifiable results create success, the culture of a school, in fact, the communal living of a mission and each individual’s ability to positively affect one another plays a dominant role in the performance of a school. Central Catholic High School’s structure allows the principal to focus his or her energy, time, skills, and service toward this end.

Looking forward to: Building relationships with the staff, students, and families and (hopefully) positively impacting the lives of others!

DR. SUSIE CICCIARELLI I Peoria Notre Dame High School

Like The High School of Saint Thomas More in Champaign last year, Peoria Notre Dame has formed a leadership team, with Dr. Susie Cicciarelli serving as the interim principal and Grant McInnis as the chief operating officer.

Degrees: Bachelor’s degree in communication and English, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa (1987); master’s degree in curriculum and instruction, Bradley University (2001); doctor of education in instructional technology, Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (2006); administrative certificate in supervision and administration, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland (2011).

Experience: Title I teacher, Peoria Heights Grade School (2002); pre-kindergarten and support service teacher, St. Thomas the Apostle School, Peoria Heights (2003-07); executive assistant to the president (2007-11) and director of student support services (2011-13), Peoria Notre Dame; assistant principal, St. Philomena School (2013-14); assistant principal, Peoria Notre Dame (2014-22).

Why teaching? Helping children learn always felt natural to me. I’ve been blessed with many opportunities to make a difference through teaching.

Why Catholic education? Catholic education allows God to live through you while supporting others in unique ways compared to other learning environments.

Why Peoria Notre Dame? My parents, my husband and I, and our five children benefited from Catholic education. Working at PND allows me to give back to our community by supporting PND’s faculty, staff and students.

Looking forward to: This year, I look forward to working with my colleagues, supporting our students, and watching them prepare for a successful college experience through developing their minds, bodies, and souls.

GRANT McINNIS I Peoria Notre Dame High School

Degrees: Bachelor’s degree in economics, University of Missouri, Columbia (2005); master’s degree in accounting, Bradley University (2015); certified public accountant, licensed in Illinois (2017).

Why Catholic education? After spending years working for a Big Four accounting firm, I decided to switch paths and focus more on family. While taking some time off work, a position opened at Peoria Notre Dame which perfectly lined up with my skills and interests. I really appreciate a workplace that not only allows a focus on faith, but encourages it.

Why Peoria Notre Dame? I feel blessed to have a job that allows me to serve the Catholic community. It is so easy to put forth my best effort every day with a mission that is so easy to get behind. PND develops students holistically, through the formation of body, mind, and spirit.

Looking forward to: I look forward to serving the parents/guardians, students, and all the PND community this upcoming year.

NICK McLAUGHLIN I St. Bede Academy, Peru

Degrees: Bachelor’s degree in the teaching of English, University of Illinois at Chicago; master’s in educational leadership, University of St. Francis, Joliet.

Experience: Athletic director, Chicago Hope Academy (2013); English teacher and football and baseball coach, Dakota High School (2014); English teacher and football and track coach, LaSalle-Peru Township High School (2015-19); principal, Lostant CUSD 425 (2019-20); assistant principal and athletic director, St. Bede Academy (2020-22).

Why teaching? I was very fortunate to have some wonderful teachers throughout my career. I had some great teachers at Marquette High School in Ottawa — some of them are still there. I had Mrs. (Brooke) Rick, who is the principal at Marquette. I had Mr. (Michael) Hall, who is still there. They were really influential on me in wanting to become a teacher. I always wanted to be involved with athletics and coach because I believe athletics teaches some lessons you don’t always get in the classroom. I had a yearning to become a teacher from a young age as well. This is pretty much the only career path I ever really had the intent of going into.

Why Catholic education? I was raised in the public school system and I learned a lot from those teachers. There’s a lot of talented teachers and quality teachers in the public school system. My parents gave my brother and I the option to go to Marquette when we were in eighth grade and we both took that option. I would say that ability to go to a school that fosters the whole education of a person — spiritually, academically and athletically — was really appealing to me. I learned a lot about myself as an individual through the religion classes and the faith-based school that I was able to go to. I was always wanting to get back into that. . . . Part of who I am as a person is my faith and my belief in God and being able to explain it and share that and be proud of that in an educational environment is good for kids and the next generation of young leaders.

Why St. Bede? When you look at the history of St. Bede, it’s pretty impressive, right? Catholic education since 1891. There’s a great leadership team and stability that’s been there for a long time. I’m replacing Michelle Mershon, who was there for 21 years, I believe, as the principal. You don’t find that type of longevity in leadership in a place. Obviously there was an individual who I could learn so much from and I was fortunate to learn so much from. . . .  If you talk to any St. Bede alum they talk about what a special place it is, and it is. And I really feel that about all Catholic schools. People ask about Marquette and I’ll say it holds a special place in my heart. There’s the Marquette family. There’s the St. Bede family. It’s what Catholic education is all about. It’s about building lifelong relationships and getting the best possible education around.

Looking forward to: The first thing is I’m looking forward to a more normal school year, where we can get back to annual traditions and normal high school sports, and not have to worry about the constant testing and all the COVID stuff. The thing I’m most looking forward to is the kids. We get into education to be with kids and to lead kids and to work with kids. That’s what it’s all about. Students need to be first every day. So being able to build those relationships and connections is something that I look forward to. . . .

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