Bishop names Birdsong new Althoff principal

Diocese of Belleville Superintendent of Schools and Director of Education, Jonathan “Skip” Birdsong, has been appointed the new principal at Althoff Catholic High School in Belleville, replacing Sarah Gass. Birdsong’s first day at Althoff will be July 1. Gass will take over as the new superintendent in Freeburg Community High School District 77. Her first day also will be July 1 (David Wilhelm photo).

Jonathan “Skip” Birdsong will miss the relationships he built in his six years as the superintendent of schools and director of education for the Diocese of Belleville.

At the same time, Birdsong is looking forward to similar interactions at Althoff Catholic High School in Belleville.

Birdsong, 51, on March 26 was appointed the new principal at Althoff by Bishop Michael McGovern. Birdsong, who will replace Sarah Gass, will begin his new position July 1. Gass was hired as the superintendent in Freeburg Community High School District 77.

“I was (principal) at St. Teresa four years, so I’ve done the elementary thing,” Birdsong said. “But the high school level is more my setting, and Althoff was ultimately the reason we came to the diocese 10 years ago. My oldest son (Dillon) was going into high school and that’s where he wanted to go. That’s the school that brought us here as a family. It’s always been a place we’ve had a connection to.

“So when (the job) opened up, it was like, ‘Let’s think about this.’”

Birdsong will work with Greg Leib, the assistant principal at Althoff, along with other administrators and staff. He also will have more communication with students.

“The thought of working closer with the students and their families again … I don’t have a lot of that interaction at this point, so it became a little more appealing to go down that road again,” said Birdsong, who also coaches boys and girls soccer at Althoff. “There’s definitely some benefits to being in the building and working with those kids. I have missed those interactions.

Birdsong oversaw a diocese that has 5,000 students, 700 teachers and about 300 staff members. One of his most satisfying accomplishments came during the COVID pandemic in 2020. Schools remained open despite the unique circumstances.

“We jumped through the hoops we had to, always with the idea of keeping people safe,” Birdsong said. “That’s still what our priority is today. We take all kinds of steps to keep people safe. (But) that was new and challenging. At the end of the day, it’s better to have kids in class than at home. We did everything we could to make that happen. We got through it, which I’m proud of. We kept schools open and kept kids in class, where they belonged.”

There were three Catholic school closures during Birdsong’s tenure. St. Agatha, in New Athens, closed in 2020. In January, the diocese announced that Notre Dame Academy in Belleville and St. Ann in Nashville will close at the end of the current school year.

“Closings are something nobody wants to see happen,” Birdsong said. “It is necessary at times, unfortunately. As populations shift, so many things are different.

“But I think our (Catholic) schools have a future, both across our diocese and across the country. We serve an important mission and offer a service to families that are looking for this sort of environment to educate their children in.”