FULTON, Ill. — River Bend Middle School's Kathleen Schipper has recently been chosen as the regional middle school Principal of the Year by the Illinois Principals Association.
Chris Tennyson, the northwest region state director for the association and the principal at Fulton High School, commended Schipper for her work over the past year, calling her a true "inspiration."
Schipper, who found out in 2016 that she had breast cancer, is applauding her staff and students for working with her during the hard time.
"She has not missed a beat at all," Tennyson said. "And it's been amazing to watch."
Tennyson nominated Schipper for the award, as he has seen her adapt to personal changes and she never let it affect her job. Schipper loves the children and is very honored to be recognized by the Illinois Principals Association.
When asked about Schipper as a recipient of a middle school Principal of the Year award, Tammy Meumann, guidance counselor, said: "Mrs. Schipper was faced with the huge challenge of fighting cancer. She rose to that challenge and modeled strength and courage to her students. She continued to push forward and show the students that this wasn't going to bring her down. She continued to go that extra mile with her students. She worked hard to help those students who struggled academically, many times sitting down and helping them to complete missing assignments. She continued to be there in the halls greeting students with a friendly hello. She is a real inspiration to everyone."
Schipper is thankful to her staff and the administration of the district, as they stepped in when she needed it. During times when she had to leave the office due to her treatments, Josh Knuth, who was FHS assistant principal at the time, spent part of his days at the middle school. Middle school staff also stepped in to help.
But all things considered, Schipper didn't miss all that much. After the initial discovery, she finished the semester tired. Through the following spring and fall semester, Schipper said she rarely missed work.
"We kind of just all jumped in and made sure that any days she would be gone, the school would be covered and staff and students would be taken care of," Tennyson said.
Some criteria to be nominated as Principal of the Year include demonstrating a positive impact on education and advocacy for students; creativity/imagination in bringing the positive change; and working collaboratively with faculty to improve education and student achievements.
"When you see Kathleen working on a day-to-day basis, she pours her heart and soul into supporting and helping kids," said River Bend School District Superintendent Darryl Hogue. "Each day at the end of the day she works with kids that need additional help and support... It's clear that she cares about kids."
"Mrs. Schipper has been an inspiration to her students, staff and her fellow administrators as she battled treatments last year and as she continues to be monitored," Hogue said. "Mrs. Schipper continued to give River Bend Middle School her very best as she managed her treatments and supporting her staff and students."
Recently, the middle school implemented a homeroom program called 100s for Caring. With $100, students had to positively impact their community. Schipper saw this unique opportunity to develop a set of life skills together with academics. Activities like this allow students to shine, she said, as presentations and efforts were all student led. She even noticed that students on the more quiet side were able to open up and present their semester-long project.
She wanted to harness sentiments and community action, adding that it's important to learn about developing relationships and positive behaviors.
Another event that took place more than a year ago was a program on table manners and etiquette. Students, accompanied by parents and other guests, held a dinner to practice just that. It was to take place during the time that Schipper was in the peak of treatments; her staff came together to take on the schoolwide endeavor.
Hogue said the staff "rallied together" and allowed Schipper to sit back a little bit.
"Staff was able to conduct that flawlessly," Hogue said. "Planning started when she was well and as treatments were taking place the staff was able to keep up."
Schipper prides herself and faculty on the relationships within the building. She makes sure she knows all the students on a personal level, and encourages the staff to do so as well.
"We are a very personal school," she said. "(The students) connect to us as people and we do to them as people. That helps them do better while they are here, academically."
As for the award, Schipper is honored and her superintendent is proud and grateful her efforts are being recognized regionally.
"I've also said my name may be on the award, but I couldn't have done it without staff and students," she said. "I am lucky to work in a building with people that are pretty awesome."
Schipper, before moving to the middle school, was the principal at Fulton High School. Though she loved working there, the middle school is where she belongs, she said. Her experience in upper-grade levels has allowed her to better prepare her younger students for what comes next.
Tennyson and the seventh and eighth grade staff, alongside Schipper, work to develop coursework for students in preparation for high school. The students come to high school every year "very prepared" for the upper-grade level workload. Recently, for example, honors English is open to freshman and sophomores. Tennyson said it was noticed that students proved a need for these classes offered at a younger grade that would then transfer to the accelerated junior English.
"(Schipper) is an incredible person that cares about kids," Tennyson said. "She's done an excellent job."
Schipper added that her husband, Lynn, and three boys, Kyle, Kraig and Kole, have really stepped up since finding out she had breast cancer. She applauds her husband for doing so in away that allowed her to gear her attention toward school — as it is her passion.
As the daughter of a school administrator, education has always been at the forefront, which has carried over now that she has a family of her own.
"That's how (I) grew up and how we do it at home now. I think my children get it," Schipper said. "We are all in this together, and there are a lot more benefits than there are disadvantages."