FULTON – Kathleen Schipper’s drive as principal at River Bend Middle School is not unlike the drive she demonstrates in her fight against stage 4 breast cancer.
“My doctor is very optimistic,” she said. “Basically, as he describes it, my body will never be without cancer, but the goal is to keep my cancer as quiet as long as they can.”
“He tells me, ‘Every time you’re out there, live your life’” – and the 47-year-old is listening to doctor’s orders.
Determined not to let the disease get her down, she’s missed very few days of work while also raising her three sons, Kyle, 17, Kraig, 15, and Kole, 13, with her husband, Lynn Schipper.
That determination and drive hasn’t gone unnoticed.
The Northwest Region of the Illinois Principals Association is recognizing Kathleen’s work ethic by naming her Middle School Principal of the Year for the region, which covers Carroll, Jo Daviess, Lee, Ogle, Whiteside, and Stephenson counties.
Fulton High Principal and the region’s director, Christopher Tennyson, plans to honor her with a certificate at River Bend’s February school board meeting.
“What she’s done the last year is just amazing to me,” Tennyson said.
Schipper’s interest in education started at an early age. She’s the sixth of seven children born to John and Judy Elder, and John was a principal and football coach in Alexis, near Galesburg.
“I have three brothers and three sisters. I have a sister who’s a high school secretary, a sister who’s an elementary teacher, a brother who’s an athletic director, and a brother who’s been a football official.
“Definitely, my immediate family and my parents have been huge influences in my life,” she said.
Schipper’s been a principal for 21 years, the past 13 at River Bend Middle School, and at Thomson and Milledgeville before that.
“I’m winning this award only because of my staff and my students. They help keep this place going every single day,” Schipper said.
A major initiative at the school under Schipper’s direction is a 3-year rotation of themes, with each class receiving special programming on Wednesdays. All students in each grade level get the same theme in the same year.
The themes are Future Wednesdays, focusing on college and career readiness, job skills, and etiquette; Wellness Wednesday, with social, emotional, and physical wellness activities; and, as Bulldogs, Paw it Forward, doing kind things for others, playing off of the movie “Pay it Forward.”
Dogged determination might be a way to describe Schipper’s approach to fighting her illness. She was diagnosed in November 2016 with breast cancer, and underwent chemotherapy in Iowa City, Iowa.
“Then, we found it had spread. Now, I’ve worked through pretty much most of my chemo. I had minor surgery this past summer, and I receive shots, medicine, and blood work.”
The cancer has advanced into her back, prompting a minor surgery in the summer, but she’s slowed only a bit.
“If I have a lot of activities, and then I have things going on at night, I can get pretty tired. Sometimes, I might not come in until 9 a.m.”
Schipper’s also in the running for the statewide IPA Principal of the Year award, which will be announced in October.
Her focus, though, is on her family, and her faith.
“I have a great faith in God, and that’s very important to me. It’s something I draw upon.”