Education Office Leadership Changing
By Penny Wiegert, Editor
April 23, 2021

DIOCESE—Changes are coming in the Diocesan Office of Education and the news, for once, has nothing to do with the pandemic. The changes have everything to do with the retirement of Superintendent of Catholic Schools Michael Kagan.

Retirement on horizon

Kagan will end his long tenure in diocesan Catholic schools officially on June 30, 2021. He has served as the superintendent of Catholic schools since 2010 but his service to the diocese and area public schools goes back 41 years when he was a guidance counselor and coach for Boylan Central Catholic High School.

Since that time, Kagan has been an educator and principal in Rockford, Orfordville, Wis., and Beloit, Wis. He also served as an adjunct instructor for Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbannais for eight years.

He holds professional certifications in teaching, school service personnel and school administration, a bachelor of arts in psychology, master of arts in counselor education and a certificate of advanced study in education administration.

Kagan brought his education and experience to Catholic schools because “Like so many other dedicated Catholic educators, I am a product of Catholic schools — 16 years  — and owe much of who I am to my Catholic education beginning with the good nuns I had in elementary school and continuing through Catholic college and graduate school. I am deeply grateful to my parents for giving me this wonderful opportunity,” he said.

He said he views his work not as merely a job, but a vocation.

“I could not have done this for 27 years without believing it was God’s will for me. He has guided me through some rough seas to many safe harbors over the years,” he said.

He spent six years at Boylan; five years at the Cathedral of St. Peter School; five years at St. James School, Rockford and 11 at the Catholic Education Office.

“Working in Catholic education has, by far, been the highlight of my career. It has afforded me the opportunity to be a real disciple of Christ and share my faith in both word and deed with students and adults. After having worked for a number of years in public education, I have seen what happens to children when a ‘vacuum of faith’ exists in a school environment.”

But even a vocation has challenges and Kagan has been through a few during his time in diocesan administration.

Challenges and changes

“There have been too many challenges to recount but if I had to narrow them down to two they would be overseeing the implementation of the goals of our diocesan strategic plan for schools, ‘Faith Forward,’ specifically, those that dealt with the creation of new schools supported by multiple parishes. This process was at times difficult but necessary to ensure a strong future for Catholic schools in our diocese, and helping our principals and pastors to navigate their schools through the unprecedented
COVID-19 pandemic.

“None of us in the diocese were prepared for such a catastrophic occurrence,” Kagan added, “but I am proud of how our educational and spiritual leaders remained strong, focused and faith-filled during this extremely trying time. I think our schools did a magnificent job of reopening and for the most part remaining open during this current school year.”

While Kagan doesn’t have a grand plan for retirement he did promise his wife that he would not get another job at least until the fall.

“She didn’t have to twist my arm on that request. I am confident the good Lord will show me the way in due time,” he said.

Stepping up

Stepping up as the new superintendent will be Vito DeFrisco who has served as assistant superintendent for curriculum, assessment and school recognition since July 1, 2017.

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

Prior to joining the diocesan administration DeFrisco was principal at St. Hubert School in Hoffman Estates since 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.

He also 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 entire family.

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

Stepping in

Taking over DeFrisco’s duties in diocesan education administration will be Renee Payne, current head of school and principal at All Saints Catholic Academy, Rockford.

Payne served as the first head of schools with principal James Burns, for the academy formed by bringing together the schools from the Cathedral of St. Peter, St. Bernadette, St. Edward and St. James parishes in Rockford.

Prior to her work at All Saints Catholic Academy she served as principal of St. James School, 2018-2019, and principal at St. James and St. Bernadette in their combined administration, 2017-2018.

She has been an educator since 1981, taking her first position as assistant principal in 1993 at St. Cajetan School, Chicago, where she became principal in 1996 to 2006. She was also principal at St. Alphonsus and St. Patrick combined administration in Lemont before coming to Rockford.

She holds a bachelor of science degree in education from Northern Illinois University in DeKalb and a master of arts in educational administration from Governor’s State University, University Park.



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