Principal Award Recipients


2020 Outstanding Principal
Erin Salberg, Nashold Early Childhood Center, Rockford

B.A. Elementary Education and Teaching, Elmhurst College

M.A. Curriculum and Instruction, National Louis University
M.A. Principal Prep, Concordia University

Golden Apple Teacher award recipient 2014

Erin taught first grade in the Rockton District from 2006-2015. From 2015-2016, she was Assistant Principal of Rockford Public Schools’ Creative and Performing Arts Academy/ Gifted Academy. Since 2016, she’s led 450 Pre-K - fifth graders and teachers as principal at Rockford’s Nashold Elementary. 

To Erin, supporting student growth starts with empowering and educating teachers. With that in mind, she provides professional learning community meetings, offers quality professional development opportunities; links teachers’ professional goals or interests with those of students; and encourages teachers to learn from both peers and teachers of classes their students will move on to. Erin knows the importance of family in a student’s success and that learning isn’t limited to just academics. She’s implemented many new committees, tactics and resources to help teachers teach to the whole child including Calm Down Corners; task forces (socio-emotional, literacy and numeracy); Class Dojo to communicate with families; and a period at the start of the year to familiarize students with expected behaviors. When a new tactic doesn’t work, because, sometimes they don’t, Erin accepts that. She then works with staff to find alternative ways to reach the desired results.


This hands-on principal is very visible! Erin drops in on classes to congratulate students who met a goal or just to play. When the school’s short-staffed, you’ll see Erin pitching in where needed, from loading buses to teaching classes. Her love of children is clear on “Tuck in Tuesday” videos on Nashold’s Facebook page, where she invites teachers, students and their families into her home to watch her read to her own children. Some children watch weekly, calling her “the teacher who comes on my computer to read to me”! She chooses her stories with intention, often consulting teachers to align them with academic vocabulary, concepts and goals and she greets viewers by name. This cozy activity boosts the feeling of community and family involvement while extending learning outside the classroom. Viewership averages 400 views week! She continued this practice during the Coronavirus shutdown, maintaining a sense of comfort and consistency in a time that could feel chaotic and unsettling.  Erin leads by example, believes in her teachers and put the children first, always.                                                                        



quick change

 2019 Outstanding Principal

 Eric Flohr, Hononegah Community High School, Rockton

 A.S. Biology, Illinois Valley Community College
 B.S. Biological Education, Illinois State University
 M.S. Educational Administration and Foundations; Illinois State University
 CAS, Superintendent Endorsement, Educational Administration, Eastern Illinois University


As an Eagle Scout, a high school science teacher (1988-1996) and a principal (1995-2019), Eric Flohr has always set and achieved goals. One of Flohr’s goals is for teachers to be there 100% for the students and to always provide them their best. Kelsey Zammuto got on board during her interview with him. “He gave me a sense of purpose … I didn’t want to disappoint him.” “He helped re-spark my passion for teaching.” He also instills pride in others as he models positive relationship building. His Twitter handle, @HononegahPrin demonstrates his pride as “YOUR principal” (his daily greeting).

Flohr loves to celebrate staff’s hard work and accomplishments as well as student successes – artistic, athletic and academic. He has solidified the school values of community and collaboration. Students know how Flohr roots for and values them. At games, the very visible Hononegah fan embodies school spirit in a bright purple Hononegah blazer and spirit socks, while energetically urging everyone in the student section to cheer on the team. When Margaret Moore’s son learned his team qualified for the state math competition, he couldn’t wait to tell “his principal.” She says when Flohr presents awards, he brags about the students "as if they were his kids.” She concluded that he “truly believes in what students can accomplish; this magically turns into students believing in themselves and their abilities. His positive attitude, charisma and authenticity make him a great student leader.” Abigail Trefilek says he created a “positive learning environment for students and positive working environment for all staff.”

To see Flohr’s spark yourself, search “Hononegah Principal” on In one video, he claps for and gives the Class of 2018 an “A” for wrapping everything, even his scissors, in tin foil. In some schools, such pranks have negative consequences, but Flohr understood this act meant the students knew he cared and that something good was going on in his school. Several videos include his take on something Golden Apple teachers, staff and volunteers were all too familiar with this year: snow days. Hear his memorable school closure message at:



 2018 Outstanding Principal

 Mrs. Amber Miller, Maud Johnson Elementary

  Associate of Arts in Education from Rock Valley College  
  BA in Elementary Education and Teaching from Rockford College
  MA in Teaching and Leadership from Saint Xavier University


Amber Miller taught in RPS205 schools from 2005-2012, when she became principal at Johnson. She has said, “If I could just have more hands/help/time, I could make a larger impact with students.” Partnering with Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, Principal Miller formed a group of volunteer tutors doing just that. Nominator Randy Larson credits her for increasing the positive role models for Johnson students as she develops a positive school environment and positive lives. The group, which started with eight tutors in 2013, now includes local firefighters, Alpine Kiwanis and Allen Chapel AME members. And volunteers go beyond tutoring: they share the church gym; donate school supplies and warm clothing; help with school projects; and attend programs and celebrations. Larson says, “It is a joy to dream with Amber and the staff,” as the partnership supporting the Johnson School Family continues to grow.

Teachers often seek grant funding for classroom needs. As a former teacher and an involved principal, Amber gets it. She has been known to apply for those grants herself. Music teacher Mary Shore said, “Amber has a big heart, a broad smile and an infectious laugh, which creates a positive school culture.” She shared how active Amber is with the school morning to night: directing traffic and greeting students daily; putting on running shoes to go outside with students at lunchtime; accepting challenges to do handstands or push-ups when students meet goals; meeting students, teachers and district committees; and cheering on students in music programs or athletic events at night. By demonstrating her “commitment to the profession, her leadership and her involvement, Amber challenges and motivate us to create a family atmosphere at Johnson School,” Mary said. Emily Tropp, Project Coordinator for Athletics and Fine Arts with RPS District 205, added that Amber always supports district events such as the 2.05 Run and is one of the first principals she contacts when she needs help or has a question.


Ben Commare

2017 Outstanding Principal

Mr. Ben Commare, Belvidere South Middle School

Ben Commare was nominated by teachers, an assistant principal and a student’s parent in 2013, 2015 and 2017. Commare has been principal of Belvidere South Middle School since 2010, overseeing 6th – 8th grade students. He went to Northern Illinois University for his undergraduate education and National College of Education - National Louis University for graduate school.

Results from a principal evaluation teachers completed in the fall shared in a recent staff meeting showed that one of the areas Ben scored highest on was “creating a caring atmosphere.” BSMS teacher Brooke Stark said Commare “makes the staff truly care for the students as much as he does. The school dynamic truly depends on his goal setting, sense of humor and genuine care of the learning environment.” “I’ve talked to him about strategies to improve low achievement scores but also have learned from him that getting to the heart of the student’s needs is most important.”

Stark added that Principal Commare has “created an expectation of continued learning by instilling his work ethic on others. He encourages everyone – students, staff and teachers – to be in constant state of improvement.” Commare loves gathering, analyzing and communicating data to improve all areas of the school. He works with teachers to improve MAP assessment scores by putting an emphasis on attendance, work completion, student behavior, balanced curriculum and academic intervention. He encourages staff to seek opportunities to grow to help increase student success. He developed a lunch intervention program to help academically struggling students, even personally helping at-risk students with school work. His concern for students also reaches those exceeding expectations, as he created another honors level course for those students to grow academically.

Principal Commare attends honor society programs, band concerts and sporting events – home or away. He congratulates students in announcements on academic, behavioral and athletic achievements. He even refereed a girls basketball game when the scheduled referee was absent. In addition to his interest in promoting improvement in the learning environment, Commare continues his interest in science by chasing tornados and storms!



2016 Outstanding Principal

Mr. Kevin Finnegan, Prairie Hill Elementary

Certificate of Educational Leadership-Type 75 DePaul University
M.S. Ed. Elementary Education Aurora University
B.A. Communication Ohio University

Kevin Finnegan is credited with developing leadership among his staff. He empowers them to make data-driven visions come to life. Once the research has been demonstrated, he encourages them to present their proposals to the school board with his full backing. One fruit of this culture of appreciation is found in their well-developed, fully blended and growing Pre-Kindergarten program. It is setting the standard for other preschools.

During his time at Prairie Hill, he has developed a standards referenced report card that keeps staff focused on the foundational growth of students. The process of implementation showcased Mr. Finnegan’s skill at relationship building. He gained the buy-in of his staff who implemented this initiative and held parent meetings during the roll out. He even created a video tutorial to share with parents who could not attend the meetings. Such considerations have earned the trust of the wider community. This has also assisted his development of Professional Learning Communities for which he changed the school schedule to double the amount of collaboration time for teachers.

In addition to the many systemic accomplishments Mr. Finnegan has achieved, he still keeps focus on the personal touches. He developed a character program that daily recognizes kids for positive attitudes and actions. He even celebrates the birthdays of each of his 400 students by inviting them to pick a book from his personal collection to keep. Then they read the book together and the child signs his/her name on his chalkboard wall to commemorate the event. As one nominator said, “Kevin recognized that students don’t care how much you know unless they realize how much you care.”


Dr. Heidi Houy

2015 Outstanding Principal

Dr. Heidi Houy, Roosevelt CEC

Doctorate-Ed.D. National Louis University
Certificate of Advanced Study National Louis University
M.S. Ed. Special Education Northern Illinois University
B.A. History, Political Science University of Iowa

Dr. Heidi Houy is credited with reconnecting the community with Roosevelt and dispelling commonly held myths about the alternative high school model. According to Dr. Houy, “There’s this notion that…alternative means bad. That’s not what happens here. It’s alternative because it’s different from traditional high schools. We just meet them where they are.” She has added great success in her personal goal of closing the divide between the school and community.

Her staff credits her with being the chief encourager for students and staff alike. Visitors to the building can witness her asking students about their well-being, and knowing their unique circumstances. Dr. Houy has built a school culture of cooperation. She ensures that faculty meets regularly in department meetings, learning communities, and has opportunities for professional growth.

When asked what she is most proud of at Roosevelt, Dr. Houy has an extensive list: “implementing the academy model, engaging with the community, helping students understand what servant leadership means, increasing student achievement and being able to see measurable gains in learning, increasing family involvement…” And her list goes on with pride in Roosevelt, the students, and staff.


Dr. Pamela Nichols

2014 Outstanding Principal

Dr. Pamela Nichols, Principal, White Swan Elementary

Doctorate-Ed.D. Educational Administration Northern Illinois University
Ed.S Educational Specialist Northern Illinois University
M.S. Ed. Educational Administration Northern Illinois University
M.S. Ed. Early Childhood Education Northern Illinois University
B.S. Elementary Education University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Well known as an educator who demonstrates an enthusiasm, compassion and unwavering commitment to enhancing Common Core standards and achievement on all levels, Dr. Pamela Nichols is honored for her 14 years of excellence in leadership at White Swan School.

Creating a positive environment for the White Swan “family,” Dr. Nichols established initiatives such as the First Grade Bully Program, reading during Lunch with the Principal, Grandparent’s Day, Veteran readers, Patriotic Assembly, Volunteer Tea, Dad’s Night and many other programs and events.

Pam greets each student in the morning and keeps close tabs on their IEP progress. Insisting on high expectations, she encourages teacher development and positive strategies that establish new and stronger meaning to working together in collaboration. She welcomes community members as tutors and mentors for students.


Mr. Don Rundall

2013 Outstanding Principal

Mr. Don Rundall, Principal, Jefferson High School

“By actively engaging in school-wide planning, implementing initiatives, tackling problems, pursuing resources and rallying community support, Don Rundall has demonstrated excellence as a school leader,” said a nominator.

A variety of programs to improve student academic achievement and foster personal development are supported by Don, including the 21st Century tutoring program, ACT Victory Prep, Extended Learning Opportunities, Freshman Boot Camp, the School Improvement Team and others. Recognizing the leadership opportunities Don had created among his faculty, Jefferson was selected as an academies pilot site by Alignment Rockford HS Pathways in 2011. Sports and extra curricular activities round out student development, “with Mr. Rundall usually the first to arrive and the last to leave.”


Mrs. LuAnn Widergren

2012 Outstanding Principal

Mrs. LuAnn Widergren, Principal, Brookview Elementary School

“Mrs. Widergren leads by example!” Setting high expectations and standards for her staff and students, Brookview students’ ISAT performance has improved markedly over the past several years. Brookview is the second highest scoring Rockford Public Elementary School; second to the gifted program. LuAnn demonstrates strength in leadership, and inspires her staff to continue their professional growth. For LuAnn Widergren, there are no such things as mistakes, only lessons learned.

During LuAnn’s tenure at Brookview, two teachers have earned Golden Apple Awards. A former artist, Art teacher, and Art/PE Curriculum coordinator for RPS 205, LuAnn has brought an aesthetic flare to her role as principal. She leads with a vibrancy that is emulated when you walk in the doors of Brookview. The appearance of the school was given a makeover, and a friendly, welcoming environment was created. As new employees enter the staff, LuAnn pairs them with an experienced colleague to create a “family” atmosphere amongst her staff.

LuAnn has established a working environment that is second to none. The annual Teacher Appreciation Day is extended to a week long celebration. This includes LuAnn taking a teacher’s class while they are treated to a complimentary back massage by a skilled therapist brought in for the day. LuAnn also recognizes each student as individuals. She often personally tutors struggling students. “Her eyes and ears are always open and they are a direct line to her heart”, says a parent.


Mr. Matt Vosberg

2011 Outstanding Principal

Mr. Matt Vosberg, Principal, South Beloit High School

Mr. Matt Vosberg’s leadership as Principal of South Beloit H.S. has earned the school the title of “Honor Roll School” in 2008-one of only 14 recognized by the Illinois State Board of Education. And, in 2010, South Beloit H.S. was named one of “America’s Best High Schools” by U.S. News and World Report. Matt’s nominators give his very intentional leadership much of the credit for the school’s success. Matt is described as a quiet, reserved man who leads with great respect, realism and pragmatism. He has demonstrated a commitment to positive student achievement by instituting AP classes that didn’t even exist in the school 5 years prior. He’s implemented lunch and after school tutoring and peer mentoring programs for students. He is described as having great respect for and trust in the expertise of the South Beloit H.S. teachers. “Mr. Vosberg has changed the culture of the school” said Nancy Konowal, a teacher at South Beloit H.S. “Teacher morale is at it highest and teacher turnover, once a problem, is non-existent”. Matt Vosberg believes that “Good morale is due to good leadership.” Clearly he deserves the honor of being recognized as the 2011 Outstanding Principal!


Susan Haney-Bauer

2010 Outstanding Principal

Susan Haney-Bauer, Principal, Maria Montessori School-Rockford

B. Special Education Univ. of Wisconsin-Whitewater
M.S. Early Childhood Education Univ. of Wisconsin-Whitewater/Madison

Mrs. Haney-Bauer was described by her nominators as an exceptional asset to the school, the district and most importantly, every child’s life she has touched. In her thirty years in the Rockford Public School District she founded Rockford’s Early Childhood Special Education programs, led the Parent Information Center as director and developed the Local Interagency Council in order to improve collaboration between community agencies.

Mrs. Haney-Bauer has consistently demonstrated a tremendous commitment to positive student achievement and works tirelessly to ensure that all students achieve their maximum potential. She is never satisfied with the status quo and has been described as the best example of a learning leader. She has the energy and ability to inspire and empower the teachers at Maria Montessori and challenges them to continue to develop as professionals. Mrs. Haney-Bauer’s personality, commitment and leadership set the positive tone within the school. She has the “golden touch” that creates a school where the waiting list gets longer each year to enroll.

Congratulations Mrs. Haney-Bauer and Maria Montessori School!!


Mr. Thomas Hoffman

2009 Outstanding Principal

Mr. Thomas Hoffman, Principal, Pecatonica High School

B.S. Physical Education Western Illinois University
M.S Educational Administration Northern Illinois University

36 Years in Education-12 Years as a Principal

Tom Hoffman has been described as a positive leader and a considerate, fair, compassionate, yet tough administrator. It is not uncommon to see him in the halls during and after school, shaking hands of students and providing encouragement to those who need it. His honest and sincere desire to see students succeed has resulted in him earning their respect. He creates a positive learning environment and sets high expectations for student achievement. He encourages ongoing professional growth and leadership development among teachers and spends quality time in evaluating performance so that everyone has the ability to improve. Pecatonica Superintendent, Bill Faller says "Tom Hoffman has influenced the lives of many students who never forget the principal who looked out for them."


Mr. Michael Francis

2008 Outstanding Principal

Mr. Michael Francis, Principal, Jackson Elementary

A.A. Rock Valley College
B.A. Carthage College
Masters in Educational Administration Western Illinois University

37 years in Education-15 years as a Principal

If you're trying to find Jackson Elementary School Principal Michael Francis, don’t bother with his office. Look instead on the playground or in the halls. Look where the children are. Francis leads his Jackson "family" by knowing his students' names, by being visible and available. He also supports his teachers, providing materials and clearing roadblocks "so teachers can teach and students can learn," says teacher Pam Herriott.

This approach has helped the lifelong Rockfordian (a 1968 East High graduate) remove Jackson School from No Child Left Behind "status" lists. The school has seen a 24 percent increase in economically disadvantaged students in the past eight years, with only one-third meeting state standards in 2001. But Jackson brought in consultants to help teachers and worked to turn scores around. In 2007, 60 percent of Jackson students met standards.

His philosophy of education? "Teamwork in a school is essential," he says. "Treat all persons, including students, with respect." One only needs to step foot inside the 100 year old halls of Jackson school to feel that it is a safe, nurturing, welcoming, learning environment led by an outstanding principal!


Mrs. Judy Rigby

2007 Outstanding Principal

Mrs. Judy Rigby, Principal, Hononegah High School

B.S. in Education Illinois State University
M.S. in Counselor Education Northern Illinois University

General Administrative Endorsement
35 years in Education-5 years as a Principal

Judy Rigby was chosen to receive this award for her excellence in leadership, commitment to student achievement, demonstration of loyalty and dedication to staff and improving her chosen profession of school leadership in public education. Mrs. Rigby is greatly admired by teachers as well as fellow administrators at Hononegah. As stated by one of her nominators, "Her unwavering determination to continue to improve in all areas of education has created an atmosphere of constant professional growth and a positive learning climate."

Mrs. Rigby has been described as a detail oriented leader who has the ability to connect with others through astute listening skills. She is an inspiration to all as she lives out and practices the very qualities she encourages her teachers to model. Her determination to make constant improvement is contagious as evidenced by Hononegah’s selection as one of the Chicago Sun-Times Top 50 High Schools for two years in a row.


Mr. Randy Larson

2006 Outstanding Principal

Mr. Randy Larson, Principal, Carlson Elementary School

45 years in Education-34 years as a Principal

Mr. Larson was chosen to receive this premiere award for his long standing enthusiastic leadership and commitment to student achievement and development. Mr. Larson has created a positive learning environment and has created a sense of community at Carlson school that has embraced the rest of the community with their involvement in a number of community activities.

The minute you enter Carlson School you realize that learning is important and fun. The enthusiasm of the principal permeates the building with a frenzy of learning experiences. Mr. Larson's personal belief in the power of positive thinking and a committed work ethic has translated into an outstanding total education experience for the students at Carlson. The positive learning environment fosters achievement and student growth. Staff members work diligently not only to teach state and district learning standards, but also to make the learning meaningful and relevant to the student's lives. Not only is high student achievement expected and attained, but Mr. Larson encourages growth and professional development among his staff members. Mr. Larson has created a community at Carlson School that embraces the rest of the community. Through his leadership students have participated in "Get the Scoop" Ice Cream Social and Orientation, the Carlson Parade, Veteran's Day Celebration and even the adoption of a school in Gulf Port, Mississippi following Hurricane Katrina. His dedication to education and love of this community are truly a gift to us all.