New Principals to Lead Diocesan Catholic Schools
August 12, 2021
DIOCESE—Several new principals will be leading diocesan schools this year. 
Beth Cunningham
Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary School, Aurora
Beth Cunningham is a product of Catholic education graduating from a Catholic elementary school, high school, and university.  She earned a bachelor of arts in elementary education from St. Xavier University and returned to St. Xavier University and earned a master of arts in educational leadership. Her career includes being both an educator and administrator at St. Mary School in Mokena for 18 years. 
Cunningham’s teaching career includes two years as a fifth-grade teacher teaching all subject areas and seven years as a junior high teacher with an eighth-grade homeroom. While serving as a junior high teacher, she taught mathematics, social science, and religion. Cunningham also served as the assistant principal for three years at St. Mary School. She became principal of St. Mary School in 2011 and served the school community in this role for nine years. 
Her accomplishments during her role as principal include opening a preschool program, developing a 1:1 technology plan, creating a STEM Lab, and increasing student enrollment. Cunningham was the 2018 recipient of the Bishop R. Kaffer Outstanding Principal Award from Lewis University School of Education. She and her husband have three grown children, all of which are alumni of St. Mary School.
Heather Baer
St. Rita of Cascia, Aurora
Heather Baer holds a bachelor of science in elementary education from Illinois State University and masters in educational leadership from the American College of Education. She comes to St. Rita after two years as the assistant principal of the North Campus of Pope St. John Paul II Catholic Academy and two years as the assistant principal of St. Therese School. She has also taught PreK-8th grade for the past nine years in Catholic Schools. Baer and her husband live in Aurora and have three sons: Ryan who is six and will be attending first grade at St. Rita, Mason who is four and will be attending preschool at St. Rita and Brody who is 3 months old. Baer says “I am so excited to serve the St. Rita families and lead the Catholic and academic formation of St. Rita students.”
Katie Blakeslee
St. Andrew School, Rock Falls
Katie Blakeslee says she is “honored to introduce myself as the new principal of St. Andrew Grade School in Rock Falls for the 2021-2022 school year.”
Blakeslee holds a bachelor of arts degree in both elementary education and Spanish from North Central College and a master’s degree in educational leadership from Western Illinois University. For the past 10 years of her career she has taught various grade levels in the Sterling and Rock Falls school districts. Blakeslee and her husband, Adam, have a 2-year-old son, Weston who keeps them busy  building puzzles, reading books, and taking long walks. 
As a building principal, Blakeslee says she will “strive for academic excellence for all students, building positive relationships, providing a safe and nurturing learning environment, and above all else, instilling the principles of our Catholic faith and the ideals of our Christian values. I am eager to start this new school year and I am thrilled to be part of a team of teachers, staff, and parents who prioritize the mission of Jesus Christ and His Church.”
Michael Kagan
All Saints Catholic Academy, Rockford
Michael Kagan will be the interim principal for the 2021-22 School Year at All Saints Catholic Academy, a school he had a hand in opening in 2019.
Kagan announced his retirement as superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Rockford in the spring. However, retirement didn’t last long. When a principal was not found for All Saints Catholic Academy, Kagan agreed to lead the school in its post pandemic year. 
Kagan holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Creighton University, Omaha, Neb., a master’s degree in guidance and counseling from Loyola University and a certificate in educational administration from National Lewis University. 
Kagan is a veteran educator in the Rockford Diocese having spent six years at Boylan Central Catholic High School, five years as the principal at Cathedral of St. Peter School and five years at St. James School, all in Rockford, and 11 years in diocesan administration. In addition to teaching and administering Catholic schools Kagan has served in education and counseling at school districts in Beloit, Wis., and Rockton, and was an adjunct instructor for Olivet Nazarene University. 
Kagan and his wife Janet, also a lifelong educator, have four grown children and four grandchildren.
Hillary Russell
St. Mary School, Woodstock
Hillary Russell will step into the role of principal after serving St. Mary School in a variety of roles since 2010. She has taught English, religion and literature to junior high students at St. Mary, and has most recently served as the MOSIAC inclusive education coordinator for the past two years.
Russell’s knowledge of the St. Mary community and expertise in the education field was integral to the 2020-21 school year plan for staying open during the COVID-19 pandemic. 
Russell has a master’s degree in education leadership from Aurora University with an endorsement in teacher leadership and principalship and recently completed the program for inclusive education from Notre Dame. She returned to her alma mater for the summer as an adjunct professor.
In her spare time, Russell enjoys gardening, reading and traveling in the United States and abroad.


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