Ascension School, 601 Van Buren St. in Oak Park, has selected a new principal to succeed Mary Jo Burns, who had served in that position for 20 years. School officials announced the hiring of Maryanne Polega on July 26. 

Polega, a resident of Indian Head Park, comes to Ascension from St. Luke’s in River Forest, where for more than four years she served as assistant principal and interim principal. Last year, Timothy Wesley took over as permanent principal of St. Luke’s. 

During a phone interview on Monday, Polega said she worked with Burns for a year at St. Luke’s.

“We were on the same council together at St. Luke’s,” Polega said. “I spent a year working with Mary Jo and other principals on that council, and I have nothing but great respect for her. She’s done an absolute remarkable job and the parents and school board have such great respect for her.” 

“I witnessed the culture of love, kindness, and respect that Ms. Burns fostered at Ascension,” said former student and school board member Kenny Burns (no relation). “I speak for my class when I say how fortunate we were to have her.” 

Polega said that she was attracted to the position at Ascension by the school’s “sense of community.” 

“From the school board to the principal search committee and the teachers—this is such a welcoming community,” Polega said. “I think it’s not only welcoming but they all believe that the education at Ascension is very important.”

In the July 26 statement, Michael Nowicki, an Ascension parent and school alumnus, said that he was impressed by Polega’s enthusiasm and eagerness to elevate Ascension School to even higher academic levels.” 

Polega said that during her first months at the Catholic school, which enrolls more than 400 students, she’ll prioritize “getting to know the children” and examining how the school functions.

“My first priority will be to spend the first two or three months trying to see what works really well at Ascension,” she said, adding that she’ll be paying particular attention to the school’s STEM offerings and early childhood program.


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