Leo High School’s faculty is fully certified, according to State of Illinois education standards, and fully committed to the academic mission of the school. Our well-trained, thoroughly professional teachers are accustomed to coming early and staying late to provide additional instruction for any student who requests it. Along with its academic goals, Leo strives to educate the total person, stressing citizenship, leadership and good decision-making, all within the context of strong Catholic values.
MS. FAJR AL-NURRIDIN
Fajr Al-Nurridin attended Chicago State University, where she studied English and later attended The Illinois Institute of Art, where she studied Fashion Marketing and Management. Her many years of experience in not-for-profit business management, administrative operations, customer service and retail management along with her academic background have allowed her to study techniques to better serve companies and customers. Her skills include coordinating educational assignments for staff, budgets, and cost-benefit analysis on internal program vendor usage. She is a charter member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Alsip Chapter, and enjoys being outdoors, spending time with her family, traveling and socializing with friends.
MR. MICHAEL ANDERSON ’91
Mr. Anderson played football and baseball and wrestled for four years at Leo. He accepted a football scholarship to Purdue University and was a backfield mate of former Leo teammate Corey Rogers before graduating in 1995. A member of the Leo High School Hall of Fame, Mr. Anderson received the Community Service Award from the Leo Alumni Association in 2013 for his tireless efforts in recruiting for Leo. Mr. Anderson teaches Physical Education and serves as head baseball coach, assistant football and assistant wrestling coach.
Mr. Ernest Bryant '97
Mr. Bryant holds a degree in Political Science from the University of St. Francis. Mr. Bryant worked in retail management for 10 years before transitioning to education. He spent four years as a classroom aide in special education at various CPS schools before joining the faculty at Leo. The Catapult program Mr. Bryant oversees is intended to help students who are working beneath grade level improve their performance in Reading, English and Math. He is also an assistant football coach.
MR. NOAH CANNON ’95
Mr. Cannon was the Lions’ varsity basketball coach from 2003-14. In his first season as coach, Leo won the Class A state basketball championship for the only time in school history. The Lions made a return trip downstate in 2009 and have also appeared in three sectional championship games. A former Leo point guard and a member of the Leo Hall of Fame, Coach Cannon is a graduate of Elmhurst College, where he also played basketball. Mr. Cannon teaches Social Studies.
MR. TERENCE COOK ’94
Mr. Cook is the Dean of Students. He has been in the education field since 2009 serving as Cadre, Coach, and Dean of Students. Mr. Cook was on the football and track team, and graduated from Leo with a football scholarship to Tulane University. Mr. Cook graduated with a B.A in ’99 and experienced a brief opportunity to play football professionally. Mr. Cook also helped coach Leo’s football and track team to a successful playoff appearance and state championship in track in 2001-2002. Having worked alongside Mr. Rawls in education prior to coming to Leo, he understands the value and dynamic of becoming a Leo Man and the resources needed to ensure their success.
MR. JAMES EARNER
Mr. Earner has been Leo’s Business Manager since 2012, after 25 years in corporate Accounting and Finance with PepsiCo and Pepsi America. A graduate of Brother Rice High School, Mr. Earner earned a degree in Finance and Accounting from Northern Illinois University and an MBA from St. Xavier University. His father, Gene Earner, is a member of the Leo High School Hall of Fame and a Man of the Year honoree by the Leo Alumni Association. Six Earner brothers attended Leo.
MR. WILLIAM FIGEL ’72
Mr. Figel is a guest instructor for Big Shoulders Fund to facilitate and teach Leo’s “News Literacy” program, “Why News Matters” underwritten by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation. Bill owns Figel Public Relations. The former Chicago Sun-Times sportswriter has experience in print and electronic media. He graduated from Saint Mary’s University, Winona, MN in 1976. In 1984 he received a Master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism – broadcast division. Bill played basketball and baseball at Leo and Saint Mary’s.
MS. JENNIFER FLECK
Ms. Fleck is thrilled to join Leo High School as the Teaching and Learning Coordinator. She holds a B.S. in General Biology from the University of New Hampshire, an M.Ed. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in Curriculum & Instruction, and a Masters in General Administration from Chicago State University. Previously, Ms. Fleck as served as a Science teacher and department chair in the Chicago Public Schools, as a School Transformation Facilitator through Diplomas Now, and as an Assistant Principal at the Academy of St. Benedict the African.
MR. MICHIAL FOY
Mr. Foy, one of the most accomplished wrestlers the Chicago area has ever produced, has taken over the wrestling program here. Mr. Foy is a two-time Olympian, Pan-American Games gold medalist and silver medalist at the World Championships. A member of the Illinois State Wrestling Hall of Fame, Foy wrestled collegiately at the University of Minnesota. He represented the United States at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul and the 1992 Games in Barcelona, placing sixth while serving as Captain of the U.S. Greco-Roman wrestling team in ’92. He earned his Pan-Am Games gold medal in 1989, and his World Championships silver medal the same year. Foy’s other honors include five U.S. national championships in Greco-Roman wrestling, a bronze medal at the 1990 World Cup and a fifth-place finish at the 1994 World Championships. After graduating from Minnesota, Foy spent five years as an assistant coach there. His Mike Foy Wrestling Academy/Underdog Wrestling Club produced Olympians T.J. Dantzler and Majid Maynard, as well as Illinois state champion Brandon Peacock.
MS. LA DONNA HILL
During her 19 years as Leo’s Music Director, Mrs. Hill has built the Leo Choir into a popular attraction that is in demand throughout the city, bringing invaluable recognition to Leo High School. In addition to its annual Christmas and Spring concerts, the Choir regularly performs at Big Shoulders events, civic functions and church gatherings. In December 2017, the Choir sang Christmas carols at Millennium Park for a crowd estimated at 1,200. Mrs. Hill’s music history includes work with local and nationally recognized artists. She also has international experience touring Switzerland and South Africa, and multiple tours through Spain. Mrs. Hill holds a Master’s Degree in Applied Biblical Studies from Moody Bible Institute and a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Chicago State University. She believes all students can and should learn, and continues using music to motivate students to strive for excellence and success.
MR. MICHAEL HOLMES '76
Head Football Coach Michael Holmes remains one of the most decorated athletes in Leo history. As a Leo student, Mike achieved All-State and All-Catholic League recognition in baseball and football. He made the Big Eight Conference All-Freshman team at the University of Colorado, then transferred to the University of Illinois and was named second-team All-Big Ten after leading the Illini in rushing, receiving and scoring. After working as a city planner, Mike returned to Leo to teach, coach and serve as an administrator. A member of the Leo High School Hall of Fame, Mike has won four Lawless awards as Catholic League Coach of the Year. The Leo Alumni Association named him Leo’s Man of the Year in 2017.
MS. AURORA LATIFI
One of the most popular and enthusiastic figures at Leo, Ms. Latifi is in her 17th year as a Math teacher and rarely misses a Leo event. She also chairs the Math Department and is moderator for the National Honor Society. In that role, she oversaw the process by which Eder Cruz Alvarado became Leo’s first Gates Millennium Scholar in 2011. Ms. Latifi is a native of Albania and graduated with a degree in Mathematics from the University of Tirana. She holds a Master’s in Leadership and Curriculum Development from Concordia University.
MR. DAN McGRATH ’68
Mr. McGrath is in his eleventh year as Leo’s President, having succeeded the great Bob Foster in 2010 after spending six years on Leo’s Advisory Board. A Chicago native and a 1968 Leo graduate, Mr. McGrath received his degree from Marquette University and worked as a journalist for most of his professional career, serving 13 years as sports editor of the Chicago Tribune before coming to Leo. Mr. McGrath is the author or editor of six books on Chicago sports teams and is a contributing columnist to the Chicago Tribune. Mr. McGrath was recently inducted into the Chicago Catholic League Hall of Fame.
MS. SOFIA MENDOZA
Ms. Mendoza is the Spanish teacher for Leo. She received her undergraduate degree in Kinesiology from John Brown University, Siloam Springs, Arkansas. She then obtained her Masters in Spanish Language and Literature from the University of Arkansas. She was born and raised in Cartagena, Colombia, where for 13 years she played basketball for her state and country. In addition, she competed in several international championships. Sharing her skills and experience, Ms. Mendoza is an assistant basketball coach for Leo’s sophomore team, and in 2019-2020 Ms. Mendoza contributed to a great season.
MS. NANCY ONDERDONK
Ms. Nancy Onderdonk is the Visual Art teacher here at Leo. She holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois, with double majors in Art and English Literature. She went on to receive her masters in Counseling, as a Dance Movement Therapist from Columbia College. Ms. Onderdonk has taught art for over 18 years in schools, community centers, park districts, and every summer in her backyard. She founded and for 20 years co-directed Art for All, an urban art camp, which true to its name provided dance, visual arts, and music classes to youths aged 7-17. She prides herself on being curious, remaining flexible and seeing where the Light falls. She asks her students to do the same. And as a result, vibrant paintings, sculptures, prints and collages by Leo art students fill the art room and Leo’s hallowed halls.
Mrs. Iyabo Pommells
Mrs. Iyabo Pommells is a mother and Chicago native. She has a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics from Spelman College, graduating Magna Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa. She also has a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from The University of Michigan, graduating Cum Laude. Mrs. Pommells has been a classroom math teacher for elementary through high school students for since 2010. As a teacher her focus is always on critical thinking and encouraging students to analyze situations. She has experience preparing students for the ACT and ACT-aligned tests. In addition to math education, she has written a STEM curriculum and facilitated STEM education programs in school-day and after-school environments.
MR. SHAKA RAWLS ’93
Mr. Rawls is an accomplished educator with a proven track record of academic success. He most recently served as a school and community administrator in the Chicago Public Schools where he led curriculum planning on instructional leadership teams on both the elementary and high school levels. He also organized and established a system of data collection to evaluate the educational health of a school. Mr. Rawls is the founder of I.M.P.A.C.T. (Inspiring and Motivating Positive Actions for City Teens), an organization dedicated to community engagement and mentoring city students. He has more than 14 years of classroom experience, holding various teaching positions at both the high school and college level. After graduating from Leo High School, Mr. Rawls received a Bachelor of Arts in History from Aurora University. He went on to receive his Masters in Education and Instructional Leadership from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Mr. Rawls is currently pursuing his Ph.D in Educational Policy Studies from UIC, where he will be defending his dissertation next spring, the final step of the Ph.D process. Mr. Rawls is committed to strengthening Leo’s overall academic profile, enhancing each Leo student’s experience here and making us more competitive with our public, Catholic and charter school rivals.
Mr. Titus Redmond
Mr. Redmond brings 25 years of experience and commitment to Catholic education to Leo’s English department. A former basketball standout at Gordon Tech High School (now DePaul Prep), Mr. Redmond holds a BS in computer science and is pursuing a Master’s degree in the art of teaching. A father of four, Mr. Redmond has been an athletic director, an admissions director and a dean of students in addition to classroom teaching. He lists reading, politics, public speaking and “research for new knowledge” among his interests. His students have gone on to attend some of the nation’s top universities, including Dartmouth, Northwestern, Marquette and Michigan State.
MR. KEVIN STEWARD
Mr. Steward was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago and is a proud graduate of Brother Rice High School ‘93. Mr. Steward graduated from Chicago State University and has been educating scholars in the Archdiocese for over fifteen years. Mr. Steward teaches Biology, STEM and Advanced Environmental Science. Mr. Steward is co-chair for the National Honor Society and Director of Leo’s Annual Black History Program/Competition. Mr. Steward is honored to be a part of the rich history at Leo Catholic High School and its ever illuminating future.
MRS. LYDIA TABERNACKI
Mrs. Tabernacki is a native of South Chicago and attended St. Michael Grade School in South Shore. She completed her undergraduate studies at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, MO, majoring in Juvenile Corrections and minor classes in Social Science, Theology, and Philosophy. Ms. Tabernacki obtained her Masters Degree from Chicago State University in Education, concentration in School Guidance. She worked within the Catholic School system for several years as a high school counselor, teacher, and coach, and is happy to now be a part of the Leo High School Family as our theology teacher and campus minister.
Mr. Jamal Thompson ’00
Mr. Jamal Thompson had a successful Leo career, was named to the All-Catholic League team in his junior and senior years and also earned All-State recognition as a senior. He parlayed his stellar play, his knack for leadership and his strong classroom performance into a scholarship to Quincy University, where he distinguished himself as a true student-athlete. Jamal started every game as a Quincy freshman, becoming the first four-year starter in program history. Before graduating in 2004, Jamal became a member of Quincy’s 1,000-point club and still ranks within the school’s top five in career assists. He was inducted into the Quincy University Hall of Fame in 2016. Jamal coached at Bremen High School and Seton Academy before returning to Leo has head varsity coach in November of 2018.
MR. SPENCER YORK
Mr. York teaches Theology and World Religions. He was raised in Fairhope, Alabama and earned his BA and MA in History from Clemson University. Mr. York is now a doctoral candidate in history at the University of Alabama with an emphasis on the history of the Catholic Church in the United States. He recently relocated to Chicago from Atlanta and is thrilled to be a part of the Leo community.
MS. MOLLY ZAJAC-CLARK
Ms. Zajac-Clark is excited to join the Leo Team, and teach the Freshmen Seminar and English at Leo. She is a Class of 2015 Golden Apple Scholar and studied the Teaching of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she graduated Summa Cum Laude. She is a member of various academic honor societies including Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Kappa Phi, Phi Eta Sigma, and the National Society of Collegiate Scholars. Ms. Zajac-Clark is always hungry to learn and share new knowledge and skills and asks her students to do the same. She is honored to join the team of distinguished educators at Leo and looks forward to seeing her students reach great heights.