Retirement, New Position Lead to Changes In the Diocesan Educational Services Office
By Amanda Hudson, News Editor
April 27, 2017

ROCKFORD—Changes are coming to the Department of Educational Services for the Diocese of Rockford.

Margo Shifo has retired as assistant superintendent for curriculum, assessment and school recognition. She will be replaced by Vito DeFrisco.

Elizabeth Heitkamp has accepted the new post of assistant superintendent of schools in charge of professional development, training and grants.

Shifo retires

Shifo, who has served the diocese since 1974, retired effective April 1.

“There will be many things that we will miss about Margo,” wrote Michael Kagan, diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools in a memo.

“But in particular,” he said, “we will miss her love of children; her dedication to promoting strong and vibrant Catholic schools; and her vast knowledge of best practices in education.”

The March 30 memo went to high school and elementary principals and pastors with schools.

In 1974, when Shifo was two weeks out of college, Sinsinawa Dominican Sister Alessandra Kubasta, principal at St. Patrick School, hired her.

“I was going to work for Catholic schools for a year,” Shifo says.

That one-year job turned into more than four decades of service.

“The diocese has been my only professional employer,” she says. “I had other opportunities (but) I like the kids and their parents and I just stayed. It’s not an exciting story, but I don’t regret it at all.”

Shifo taught at St. Patrick School for 17 years, then was its principal for four years.

When the school closed, she became principal at St. James School in Rockford, serving in that position for 10 years.

She was principal at St. Edward School for five years before beginning service at the diocesan education office more than seven years ago.

Reminiscing a bit about two co-workers and the fun and camaraderie they shared at St. Patrick School, she says her work in education was something she “never thought of as a career that you had to climb.

We (just) thought this is what we do.”

Recalling that the student population was about one-third each Hispanic, African American and white, Shifo says, “We had some great kids at St. Pat’s. They all liked each other. They all had stuff in their home lives (but) they weren’t judgmental of each other; they were supportive of one another.”

At a recent St. Patrick School reunion, a former student told her about something she said that had made a lifelong impact on him.

“I remember you told us every day we have a choice — a good one or a bad one,” he told her, adding, “I think of that every day whenever I have a choice to make.”

“Sometimes it wasn’t academics, but they still learned from us,” Shifo says, describing how she’s heard from parents what their children did and accomplished.

“It’s been rewarding when you hear the students (you taught) are doing great things — good, positive things,” she says. “I think, ‘Okay, this is why God put me here.’ ”

Fighting cancer has derailed her plans to make it to 45 years of service.

“God has different plans for me,” she says. “I am disappointed that I couldn’t be with the schools another year. My body quit before I did.”

Of her career, she says, “I just kind of experienced it. I never thought of it as a career, but I guess it turned into a career. I just did the best I can.

“It’s what I loved to do.”

DeFrisco steps in

Stepping into Shifo’s former position of assistant superintendent for curriculum, assessment and school recognition is Vito DeFrisco, who will begin his service on July 1.

DeFrisco lives in Crystal Lake, and his work has been both inside and outside of the Diocese of Rockford.

He has been principal at St. Hubert School in Hoffman Estates since July 2006. From May 2006 to 2014, he also was an adjunct member of the faculty at Dominican University, teaching classes in the master of arts in educational administration program.

From June 1999 to June 2006, DeFrisco served at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish and School in Crystal Lake, as director, assistant principal and business manager.

He was an associate at the Institute of School and Parish Development in New Orleans from July 1998 to June 1999, and served as development director at Marian Central Catholic High School in Woodstock from July 1994 to June 1998.

He received an award for being a “Distinguished Principal” from the National Catholic Educational Association in April 2015, and under his leadership St. Hubert School received the 2014 National Blue Ribbon Award from the United States Department of Education.

His bachelor’s degree in business communication is from DePaul University in Chicago. He holds a master’s in educational administration from Dominican University and his education includes Catholic School Coordinator of Religious Education for the Archdiocese of Chicago, June 2006.

Most recently he studied “Data Wise — School Improvement Process” at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., in June 2014.

DeFrisco attended Catholic  elementary, high school and college and says Catholic education is “very important” to his and his wife’s family.

“I believe we prepare students well, not only spiritually but also academically, and I believe (a Catholic education) is the best gift a student can receive,” he says.

“I feel blessed to work in Catholic education. To me, it is truly a ministry and not just a job.”

DeFrisco says he is looking forward to working will all the principals and visiting all the schools. “I view this position as a position of service, making sure the schools have the support they need,” he says. “I think we must always be sure we’re doing the best job we can.”

DeFrisco’s work as assistant superintendent for curriculum, assessment and school recognition will include:

n Facilitate the elementary curriculum evaluation and development process on a cyclical basis;

n Coordinate the in-servicing of principals and teachers when the curriculum evaluation process is complete;

n Oversee the elementary Student Data Management System;

n Oversee the academic articulation process between elementary and high schools;

n Manage the I.T.B.S. annual assessment process;

n Serve as liaison with testing and textbook companies;

n Serve with the superintendent of schools on the Non-Public School Advisory Board for the I.S.B.E. recognition process;

n Manage the Diocesan Self-Study Process;

n Provide technical support and being present on the day of the I.S.B.E. recognition visit for schools;
n Assist the superintendent of schools in the screening, hiring and training of new diocesan administrators;

n Assist the superintendent of schools in implementing the goals of the Diocesan Strategic Plan — Faith Forward;

n Perform other duties as assigned.

Heitkamp fills new post

Elizabeth Heitkamp will fill a new position being added to the diocesan Department of Educational Services as the result of recommendations made by the Faith Forward Strategic Planning Process.

She will be the assistant superintendent of schools in charge of professional development, training and grants.

“One of the administrative needs identified in the Faith Forward plan was to continually develop our Catholic school faculties and seek additional funding through grants,” said Michael Kagan in his March 30 memo.

“In order to accomplish that goal, the Catholic Education Office is adding an assistant superintendent of schools in charge of professional development, training and grants.”

Elizabeth “Beth” Heitkamp is set to begin in that role on July 1.

Heitkamp is a familiar face in the Rockford/South Beloit area. She has served as principal at St. Bernadette School in Rockford from July 2004 to the present, also assisting St. Peter School in South Beloit as principal during the 2013 and 2014 school years.

Before coming into the Catholic school system, Heitkamp worked at Hononegah High School, first as a special education teacher (August 1993 to June 2000), including as coordinator of the Special Education Department from October 1997 to June 2000. She was the assistant principal at Hononegah from July 2000 to June 2004.

Heitkamp holds a bachelor’s degree in Special Studies from State University of New York, College at Fredonia, and a Master of Science in Education/Educational Administration from Northern Illinois University, DeKalb.

“Through our strategic plan we are embarking on an important mission to secure the future of Catholic Education for this generation and for generations to come,” Heitkamp says. “I am confident that we will be able to make our diocesan schools stronger in this process. I am especially excited to help our teachers and staff identify the needs of their students and provide them with new professional development opportunities to help them meet these challenges.”

As assistant superintendent for professional development, training and grants, Heitkamp’s duties will include:

•    Provide training and/or opportunities for training to instructional and administrative staff in a number of different areas;

•    Work with elementary and high school administrators to develop school, deanery and diocesan-wide professional development experiences, such as in-services and institute days;

•    Assist schools in creating annual professional development plans;

•    Assist administrators in identifying and utilizing funding sources for professional development and instructional and programmatic improvement;

•    Remain current on Federal and State programs that pertain to education;

•    Periodically assess the effectiveness of the teacher evaluation process;

•    Assist the superintendent of schools in implementing the goals of the Diocesan Strategic Plan – Faith Forward;

•    Assist the superintendent of schools in the screening, hiring and training of new diocesan administrators;

•    Other duties as assigned.