New principal’s roots run deep at Horseheads school - Catholic Courier
Heather Bill, principal of St. Mary Our Mother School in Horseheads, works with a student Nov. 2. (Courier photo by Jeff Witherow)

Heather Bill, principal of St. Mary Our Mother School in Horseheads, works with a student Nov. 2. (Courier photo by Jeff Witherow)

New principal’s roots run deep at Horseheads school

If Heather Bill is ever asked to share her life story, chances are the words “St. Mary Our Mother” will pop up over and over.

Bill is a lifelong member of St. Mary Our Mother Parish and a graduate of the parish school. That same school is where her teaching career has unfolded over a 12-year period, and now both her children attend St. Mary Our Mother as well.

“It’s embedded — once you’re here and see what it’s like, you don’t want to leave,” Bill said of her dedication to the Horseheads school.

Beginning this past summer, Bill has made an even deeper commitment — as St. Mary Our Mother’s new principal. So far, she couldn’t be happier.

“It’s a blessing. It’s not work when I come to school,” she said. “I love it, I absolutely love it.”

Bill — whose maiden name is Bennett — is a graduate of Horseheads High School. She received her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Keuka College and her master’s in educational technology from SUNY Cortland. After college, she returned to St. Mary Our Mother as a teacher and has worked at various grade levels, including fifth grade in 2020-21. Her 12 years of teaching took place under two distinguished principals — Marilyn Zinn (2001-15) and Jean Yorio (2015-21).

“I’ve followed two wonderful leaders into this role (as principal),” Bill remarked.

She added that a potential future in school administration “was always in the back of my head,” crediting Zinn and later Yorio for encouraging her to pursue that career path. Upon learning last spring that Yorio was retiring, Bill recalled, “I thought, ‘You know what? This is a sign.’”

Bill is currently pursuing her administration certification from the University of Rochester’s Warner School of Education, doing so on a sponsorship from the Diocese of Rochester for principals who have been promoted from teaching positions within their respective schools but still need to complete requirements for their new roles.

Despite taking on administrative duties at St. Mary Our Mother, Bill said that she strives to maintain personal connections, making sure she knows each student by name and “really trying to get into every single classroom on a daily basis.” Although she no longer teaches regularly, she enjoys filling in from time to time: “I do love to sub. Once a teacher, always a teacher,” she said with a laugh.

Another passion of Bill’s is promoting St. Mary Our Mother’s faith-based education and academic offerings to the wider community.

“I want to really market our school,” she said.

Bill takes the helm of St. Mary Our Mother School during a time when enrollment is on a pleasant upswing. The school, which opened in 1959 and offers prekindergarten through grade 6, has increased from 115 students two years ago, to 130 last school year, to its present figure of 137. She and her husband, Jason, are the parents of two of those students: Bryce, a second-grader, and Emma, who is in prekindergarten.

“We are doing so well,” Bill said of the enrollment statistics.

She noted that many newer families initially opted for St. Mary Our Mother during the coronavirus pandemic because it offered a greater availability of in-person instruction than public schools, thanks to the Catholic school’s comparatively smaller classroom sizes, which more easily allow for social distancing. However, Bill pointed out that even though public schools returned to full-time classroom learning at the start of 2021-22, St. Mary Our Mother has retained a large percentage of its newcomers.

“They’ve grown to love us,” she said.

Bill’s love for St. Mary Our Mother School, meanwhile, has extended over a considerable amount of years.

“Nothing has ever really pulled on my heartstrings as much as this community,” she said, citing the consistent family atmosphere that permeates the Chemung County school. “I am so, so blessed.”

Tags: Catholic Schools
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