Weiss retiring as superintendent of schools, but says God isn’t done with her
Retirement will take some getting used to, but Dr. Sharon Weiss, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Peoria, is ready to give it a go.
While she had been making plans to bring her four decades in Catholic education to an end within the next two years, health issues moved up her timeline. Her last day will be Dec. 31.
A celebration will be held with the principals and pastors of the 42 Catholic schools around the diocese this spring.
“I’m looking forward to just having time to be with my family more,” she told The Catholic Post. “But I’m also looking ahead to see how God wants to use me in a ministerial role in the future. I figure I have a lot more time to pray. I can be more targeted and focused in my prayers.”
That includes going back to weekly eucharistic adoration and resuming the practice of being a daily communicant.
“I believe Christ is calling me to be a prayer warrior,” Weiss said.
Something else close to her heart is staying involved in education, perhaps reading and tutoring students. After all, that’s something she has done since she set up a classroom in the basement of her childhood home and taught her dolls.
“I always loved school. I looked forward to it,” she explained. “I think it’s because I love to learn.”
Weiss said having great teachers as she was growing up and great role models throughout her career had a lot to do with that.
BLUE RIBBON A HIGHLIGHT
She prepared for her life’s work and love by attending Illinois State University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in foreign language — French and German — in 1976. She also attended summer school at the University of Grenoble in France so she could learn the culture.
Her master’s degree in human development counseling came from Bradley University in 1993 and she followed up with general administrative studies to achieve state certification in 2001. She earned a doctorate in educational administration from Illinois State University in 2006.
With the exception of her student teaching at Limestone High School, Weiss served as a teacher and counselor exclusively at Peoria Notre Dame High School and its predecessors.
She would be named principal at St. Patrick School in Washington in 2003. While Weiss was there, St. Patrick was selected to be a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education.
“As you can imagine, someone whose entire career had been at the high school level going into a grade school with children 3 and 4 years old up through eighth grade, it was something,” Weiss recalled.
A grandmother herself by that time, she loved being around the preschoolers. “They’re nothing but love,” she told The Catholic Post.
“I enjoyed going into the classrooms and watching the incredible job these teachers do,” Weiss said. “Their creativity, their passion. I think it was the most fulfilling role in my 45 years.”
EMPHASIS ON PLANNING
She loved it so much, in fact, that when she learned that Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, wanted her to be superintendent of Catholic schools in 2012 she had to think hard and pray about it.
“I think if you’re being called to share your gifts with the greater church, you should consider it,” her pastor, Msgr. John Prendergast, advised her.
“I enjoyed going into the classrooms and watching the incredible job these teachers do. Their creativity, their passion. I think it was the most fulfilling role in my 45 years.” — Dr. Sharon Weiss
One of the hallmarks of her decade as superintendent was to make certain every Catholic school in the diocese had a strategic plan in place. “Faith in Our Future” was formed to help faculty and parish leaders look at where they had been, where they were, and where they needed to be to remain vibrant and viable.
Weiss “hit the road” with associate superintendents Jerry Sanderson and Dr. Susan Stolt to visit each school to go over what they had learned and continued to check in with them for several years.
More recently, with the guidance of Bishop Louis Tylka, diocesan high schools have been working on strategic planning with the help of Partners in Mission, a Boston-based consulting group. That included studying their schools to develop goals and objectives across eight domains: academics and technology, advancement, Catholic identity, enrollment, facilities, finance, governance, and student life.
Weiss said the Office of Catholic Schools also has been working hard on inclusivity to make certain that diocesan schools are receiving all the government funding for which they are eligible.
Supporting the administrators, faculty and staff of the schools was especially important to her as they all worked through providing the best education and faith formation possible during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I always go back to the word ‘gratitude.’ I’m so grateful,” Weiss said. “I’m grateful for my principals. I’m grateful for our teachers and staff. I’m grateful for our students and their families. I’m grateful for how God has worked in my life.”
And those principals are grateful for her, too.
Adrienne Wilson, who worked with Weiss as a volunteer and kindergarten teacher at the Washington school and is now principal at Corpus Christi School in Bloomington, called Weiss “my biggest cheerleader.”
“She seemed to always know, and still does, when I was ready for a push professionally and when I needed to take a break,” Wilson said. “She’s always been there for me, like a second mother, in so many different ways.”
And as the superintendent, Weiss has always had her principals’ backs, Wilson said.
“She was always excited about the things that are going on in our schools and our communities and always hoping for the best. I think she’s going to be greatly missed.” — Dr. Noreen Dillon
“I have known Dr. Sharon Weiss for many years professionally and as a great friend,” said Doreen Shipman, now the principal of St. Patrick School in Washington. “She has always been a willing listener, very supportive, and a great adviser to the problems and issues principals face in their schools.”
Shipman added that Weiss not only sees the “big picture” but has a great sense of humor.
Dr. Noreen Dillon, principal of St. Mark School in Peoria and part of Weiss’ doctoral cohort at ISU, also used the words “cheerleader” and “advocate” to describe Weiss.
“She was always excited about the things that are going on in our schools and our communities and always hoping for the best,” Dillon said. “I think she’s going to be greatly missed.”
Jane Barrett, principal of Seton Catholic School in Moline and co-principal of Alleman High School in Rock Island, praised Weiss for bringing “a spirit of commitment and faithfulness to our diocesan schools.”
“She has been a loyal and dedicated servant to Bishops Jenky and Lou, as well as to the teachers, staff, and students of all our Catholic schools.” Barrett told The Catholic Post. “We wish her much happiness and good health in the years to come.”