St. Mary School Principal Barbara Rasinski may be new to Riverside, but she’s not new to Catholic education or the west suburban area.
Rasinski, who took the helm of the school on July 1, has had a long career as both a teacher and principal. She spent 23 years at St. Luke School in River Forest, first as a junior high math teacher and assistant principal. During her last eight years at St. Luke, she served as principal.
Prior to leaving St. Luke in 2012, Rasinski said she became familiar with St. Mary through such things as math competitions and sports. The two schools often competed against one another.
Both also have had healthy enrollment figures in an era where some Catholic schools had to close their doors due to declining enrollment. When she left St. Luke, it had an enrollment of about 380. St. Mary maintains an enrollment of about 350 students.
“I’ve been a Catholic school teacher all my life,” said Rasinski. “I have a passion for being a principal and for kids. The only goal the school has is the success of the kids.”
Rasinski comes to St. Mary after spending the past two years as principal of St. Bede the Venerable School on the far Southwest Side of Chicago. Her time there came after she resigned from St. Luke School in the spring of 2012, a move made during a difficult time in Rasinski’s life. She was caring for a gravely ill husband and also faced some opposition from parents at St. Luke.
Wednesday Journal, a newspaper that covers River Forest, quoted Rasinski at the time about the circumstances of her resignation.
“It has made me take a step back and look at my life, and I have learned that change is good, for me personally and for St. Luke,” she said in a letter to school families that March.
Rasinski told the Landmark that “anybody leaving their comfort zone is not easy. But change is good for people. Kids are kids no matter where you go.”
Part of that change included Rasinski’s move to St. Bede that fall, but it also meant a very long commute from her home on Chicago’s Northwest Side to a school located at 83rd Street and Kostner Avenue in the Ashburn neighborhood of Chicago.
Two years after that found Rasinski throwing her name into the pool for other archdiocesan principal openings early in 2014. She was one of four people interviewed by a St. Mary School search committee. According to Rev. Thomas May, St. Mary’s pastor and a member of that committee, Rasinski was the clear choice.
“She was our first and strongest candidate,” May said.
Rasinski replaces Diane Simonaitis, who was hired in August 2011 after the sudden resignation of former Principal Frank Valderrama.
May said what stood out to committee members was not only Rasinski’s “vast experience” but also “her ability to listen to people and to engage them in a positive way.”
St. Mary School Board President Scott Schafer said that parents identified solid past experience as a principal as something they wanted in a new leader.
“They wanted a proven leader with a track record,” said Schafer. “There was no one else close. We were extremely fortunate to get her.”
Rasinski will be leading St. Mary’s effort to align its curriculum with the Common Core curriculum being implemented in public schools. The archdiocese’s school superintendent, Sister Mary Paul McCaughey, has been on record saying Chicago Catholic schools will align their curriculum with the Common Core.
Rasinski will help St. Mary “bring education to the next generation,” May said.
Since July 1, Rasinski said she’s begun to learn about the community and become acquainted with the academics at St. Mary.
“The first year you really have to get the lay of the land and get people to trust you,’ she said.
She introduced herself to parish families during Masses in June and to the community on July 4, walking in the Riverside Fourth of July Parade along with May.
“We all want one thing,” she said, “To have successful kids. And successful kids equal a successful school.”