Principal Award Recipients
2017 Outstanding Principal
2017 Ben Commare, Belvidere South Middle School
Ben Commare was nominated by teachers, an assistant principal and a student’s parent in 2013, 2015 and 2017. Commare has been principal of Belvidere South Middle School since 2010, overseeing 6th – 8th grade students. He went to Northern Illinois University for his undergraduate education and National College of Education - National Louis University for graduate school.
Results from a principal evaluation teachers completed in the fall shared in a recent staff meeting showed that one of the areas Ben scored highest on was “creating a caring atmosphere.” BSMS teacher Brooke Stark said Commare “makes the staff truly care for the students as much as he does. The school dynamic truly depends on his goal setting, sense of humor and genuine care of the learning environment.” “I’ve talked to him about strategies to improve low achievement scores but also have learned from him that getting to the heart of the student’s needs is most important.”
Stark added that Principal Commare has “created an expectation of continued learning by instilling his work ethic on others. He encourages everyone – students, staff and teachers – to be in constant state of improvement.” Commare loves gathering, analyzing and communicating data to improve all areas of the school. He works with teachers to improve MAP assessment scores by putting an emphasis on attendance, work completion, student behavior, balanced curriculum and academic intervention. He encourages staff to seek opportunities to grow to help increase student success. He developed a lunch intervention program to help academically struggling students, even personally helping at-risk students with school work. His concern for students also reaches those exceeding expectations, as he created another honors level course for those students to grow academically.
Principal Commare attends honor society programs, band concerts and sporting events – home or away. He congratulates students in announcements on academic, behavioral and athletic achievements. He even refereed a girls basketball game when the scheduled referee was absent. In addition to his interest in promoting improvement in the learning environment, Commare continues his interest in science by chasing tornados and storms!
2016 Outstanding Principal
Kevin Finnegan, Prairie Hill Elementary
|Certificate of Educational Leadership-Type 75||DePaul University|
|M.S. Ed. Elementary Education||Aurora University|
|B.A. Communication||Ohio University|
Kevin Finnegan is credited with developing leadership among his staff. He empowers them to make data-driven visions come to life. Once the research has been demonstrated, he encourages them to present their proposals to the school board with his full backing. One fruit of this culture of appreciation is found in their well-developed, fully blended and growing Pre-Kindergarten program. It is setting the standard for other preschools.
During his time at Prairie Hill, he has developed a standards referenced report card that keeps staff focused on the foundational growth of students. The process of implementation showcased Mr. Finnegan’s skill at relationship building. He gained the buy-in of his staff who implemented this initiative and held parent meetings during the roll out. He even created a video tutorial to share with parents who could not attend the meetings. Such considerations have earned the trust of the wider community. This has also assisted his development of Professional Learning Communities for which he changed the school schedule to double the amount of collaboration time for teachers.
In addition to the many systemic accomplishments Mr. Finnegan has achieved, he still keeps focus on the personal touches. He developed a character program that daily recognizes kids for positive attitudes and actions. He even celebrates the birthdays of each of his 400 students by inviting them to pick a book from his personal collection to keep. Then they read the book together and the child signs his/her name on his chalkboard wall to commemorate the event. As one nominator said, “Kevin recognized that students don’t care how much you know unless they realize how much you care.”
2015 Outstanding Principal
Dr. Heidi Houy, Roosevelt CEC
|Doctorate-Ed.D.||National Louis University|
|Certificate of Advanced Study||National Louis University|
|M.S. Ed. Special Education||Northern Illinois University|
|B.A. History, Political Science||University of Iowa|
Dr. Heidi Houy is credited with reconnecting the community with Roosevelt and dispelling commonly held myths about the alternative high school model. According to Dr. Houy, “There’s this notion that…alternative means bad. That’s not what happens here. It’s alternative because it’s different from traditional high schools. We just meet them where they are.” She has added great success in her personal goal of closing the divide between the school and community.
Her staff credits her with being the chief encourager for students and staff alike. Visitors to the building can witness her asking students about their well-being, and knowing their unique circumstances. Dr. Houy has built a school culture of cooperation. She ensures that faculty meets regularly in department meetings, learning communities, and has opportunities for professional growth.
When asked what she is most proud of at Roosevelt, Dr. Houy has an extensive list: “implementing the academy model, engaging with the community, helping students understand what servant leadership means, increasing student achievement and being able to see measurable gains in learning, increasing family involvement…” And her list goes on with pride in Roosevelt, the students, and staff.
2014 Outstanding Principal
Dr. Pamela Nichols, Principal, White Swan Elementary
|Doctorate-Ed.D. Educational Administration||Northern Illinois University|
|Ed.S Educational Specialist||Northern Illinois University|
|M.S. Ed. Educational Administration||Northern Illinois University|
|M.S. Ed. Early Childhood Education||Northern Illinois University|
|B.S. Elementary Education||University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee|
Well known as an educator who demonstrates an enthusiasm, compassion and unwavering commitment to enhancing Common Core standards and achievement on all levels, Dr. Pamela Nichols is honored for her 14 years of excellence in leadership at White Swan School.
Creating a positive environment for the White Swan “family,” Dr. Nichols established initiatives such as the First Grade Bully Program, reading during Lunch with the Principal, Grandparent’s Day, Veteran readers, Patriotic Assembly, Volunteer Tea, Dad’s Night and many other programs and events.
Pam greets each student in the morning and keeps close tabs on their IEP progress. Insisting on high expectations, she encourages teacher development and positive strategies that establish new and stronger meaning to working together in collaboration. She welcomes community members as tutors and mentors for students.
2013 Outstanding Principal
Mr. Don Rundall, Principal, Jefferson High School
“By actively engaging in school-wide planning, implementing initiatives, tackling problems, pursuing resources and rallying community support, Don Rundall has demonstrated excellence as a school leader,” said a nominator.
A variety of programs to improve student academic achievement and foster personal development are supported by Don, including the 21st Century tutoring program, ACT Victory Prep, Extended Learning Opportunities, Freshman Boot Camp, the School Improvement Team and others. Recognizing the leadership opportunities Don had created among his faculty, Jefferson was selected as an academies pilot site by Alignment Rockford HS Pathways in 2011. Sports and extra curricular activities round out student development, “with Mr. Rundall usually the first to arrive and the last to leave.”
2012 Outstanding Principal
Mrs. LuAnn Widergren, Principal, Brookview Elementary School
“Mrs. Widergren leads by example!” Setting high expectations and standards for her staff and students, Brookview students’ ISAT performance has improved markedly over the past several years. Brookview is the second highest scoring Rockford Public Elementary School; second to the gifted program. LuAnn demonstrates strength in leadership, and inspires her staff to continue their professional growth. For LuAnn Widergren, there are no such things as mistakes, only lessons learned.
During LuAnn’s tenure at Brookview, two teachers have earned Golden Apple Awards. A former artist, Art teacher, and Art/PE Curriculum coordinator for RPS 205, LuAnn has brought an aesthetic flare to her role as principal. She leads with a vibrancy that is emulated when you walk in the doors of Brookview. The appearance of the school was given a makeover, and a friendly, welcoming environment was created. As new employees enter the staff, LuAnn pairs them with an experienced colleague to create a “family” atmosphere amongst her staff.
LuAnn has established a working environment that is second to none. The annual Teacher Appreciation Day is extended to a week long celebration. This includes LuAnn taking a teacher’s class while they are treated to a complimentary back massage by a skilled therapist brought in for the day. LuAnn also recognizes each student as individuals. She often personally tutors struggling students. “Her eyes and ears are always open and they are a direct line to her heart”, says a parent.
2011 Outstanding Principal
Mr. Matt Vosberg, Principal, South Beloit High School
Mr. Matt Vosberg’s leadership as Principal of South Beloit H.S. has earned the school the title of “Honor Roll School” in 2008-one of only 14 recognized by the Illinois State Board of Education. And, in 2010, South Beloit H.S. was named one of “America’s Best High Schools” by U.S. News and World Report. Matt’s nominators give his very intentional leadership much of the credit for the school’s success. Matt is described as a quiet, reserved man who leads with great respect, realism and pragmatism. He has demonstrated a commitment to positive student achievement by instituting AP classes that didn’t even exist in the school 5 years prior. He’s implemented lunch and after school tutoring and peer mentoring programs for students. He is described as having great respect for and trust in the expertise of the South Beloit H.S. teachers. “Mr. Vosberg has changed the culture of the school” said Nancy Konowal, a teacher at South Beloit H.S. “Teacher morale is at it highest and teacher turnover, once a problem, is non-existent”. Matt Vosberg believes that “Good morale is due to good leadership.” Clearly he deserves the honor of being recognized as the 2011 Outstanding Principal!
2010 Outstanding Principal
Susan Haney-Bauer, Principal, Maria Montessori School-Rockford
|B. Special Education||Univ. of Wisconsin-Whitewater|
|M.S. Early Childhood Education||Univ. of Wisconsin-Whitewater/Madison|
Mrs. Haney-Bauer was described by her nominators as an exceptional asset to the school, the district and most importantly, every child’s life she has touched. In her thirty years in the Rockford Public School District she founded Rockford’s Early Childhood Special Education programs, led the Parent Information Center as director and developed the Local Interagency Council in order to improve collaboration between community agencies.
Mrs. Haney-Bauer has consistently demonstrated a tremendous commitment to positive student achievement and works tirelessly to ensure that all students achieve their maximum potential. She is never satisfied with the status quo and has been described as the best example of a learning leader. She has the energy and ability to inspire and empower the teachers at Maria Montessori and challenges them to continue to develop as professionals. Mrs. Haney-Bauer’s personality, commitment and leadership set the positive tone within the school. She has the “golden touch” that creates a school where the waiting list gets longer each year to enroll.
Congratulations Mrs. Haney-Bauer and Maria Montessori School!!
2009 Outstanding Principal
Mr. Thomas Hoffman, Principal, Pecatonica High School
|B.S. Physical Education||Western Illinois University|
|M.S Educational Administration||Northern Illinois University|
36 Years in Education-12 Years as a Principal
Tom Hoffman has been described as a positive leader and a considerate, fair, compassionate, yet tough administrator. It is not uncommon to see him in the halls during and after school, shaking hands of students and providing encouragement to those who need it. His honest and sincere desire to see students succeed has resulted in him earning their respect. He creates a positive learning environment and sets high expectations for student achievement. He encourages ongoing professional growth and leadership development among teachers and spends quality time in evaluating performance so that everyone has the ability to improve. Pecatonica Superintendent, Bill Faller says "Tom Hoffman has influenced the lives of many students who never forget the principal who looked out for them."
2008 Outstanding Principal
Mr. Michael Francis, Principal, Jackson Elementary
|A.A.||Rock Valley College|
|Masters in Educational Administration||Western Illinois University|
37 years in Education-15 years as a Principal
If you're trying to find Jackson Elementary School Principal Michael Francis, don’t bother with his office. Look instead on the playground or in the halls. Look where the children are. Francis leads his Jackson "family" by knowing his students' names, by being visible and available. He also supports his teachers, providing materials and clearing roadblocks "so teachers can teach and students can learn," says teacher Pam Herriott.
This approach has helped the lifelong Rockfordian (a 1968 East High graduate) remove Jackson School from No Child Left Behind "status" lists. The school has seen a 24 percent increase in economically disadvantaged students in the past eight years, with only one-third meeting state standards in 2001. But Jackson brought in consultants to help teachers and worked to turn scores around. In 2007, 60 percent of Jackson students met standards.
His philosophy of education? "Teamwork in a school is essential," he says. "Treat all persons, including students, with respect." One only needs to step foot inside the 100 year old halls of Jackson school to feel that it is a safe, nurturing, welcoming, learning environment led by an outstanding principal!
2007 Outstanding Principal
Mrs. Judy Rigby, Principal, Hononegah High School
|B.S. in Education||Illinois State University|
|M.S. in Counselor Education||Northern Illinois University|
General Administrative Endorsement
35 years in Education-5 years as a Principal
Judy Rigby was chosen to receive this award for her excellence in leadership, commitment to student achievement, demonstration of loyalty and dedication to staff and improving her chosen profession of school leadership in public education. Mrs. Rigby is greatly admired by teachers as well as fellow administrators at Hononegah. As stated by one of her nominators, "Her unwavering determination to continue to improve in all areas of education has created an atmosphere of constant professional growth and a positive learning climate."
Mrs. Rigby has been described as a detail oriented leader who has the ability to connect with others through astute listening skills. She is an inspiration to all as she lives out and practices the very qualities she encourages her teachers to model. Her determination to make constant improvement is contagious as evidenced by Hononegah’s selection as one of the Chicago Sun-Times Top 50 High Schools for two years in a row.
2006 Outstanding Principal
Mr. Randy Larson, Principal, Carlson Elementary School
45 years in Education-34 years as a Principal
Mr. Larson was chosen to receive this premiere award for his long standing enthusiastic leadership and commitment to student achievement and development. Mr. Larson has created a positive learning environment and has created a sense of community at Carlson school that has embraced the rest of the community with their involvement in a number of community activities.
The minute you enter Carlson School you realize that learning is important and fun. The enthusiasm of the principal permeates the building with a frenzy of learning experiences. Mr. Larson's personal belief in the power of positive thinking and a committed work ethic has translated into an outstanding total education experience for the students at Carlson. The positive learning environment fosters achievement and student growth. Staff members work diligently not only to teach state and district learning standards, but also to make the learning meaningful and relevant to the student's lives. Not only is high student achievement expected and attained, but Mr. Larson encourages growth and professional development among his staff members. Mr. Larson has created a community at Carlson School that embraces the rest of the community. Through his leadership students have participated in "Get the Scoop" Ice Cream Social and Orientation, the Carlson Parade, Veteran's Day Celebration and even the adoption of a school in Gulf Port, Mississippi following Hurricane Katrina. His dedication to education and love of this community are truly a gift to us all.