District 126 Executive Administration

Phone: (847) 731-9792

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Degrees and Certifications:

Dr. Jesse Rodriguez, Superintendent

Dr. Jesse J. Rodríguez is a lifelong educator, bringing over 23 years of experience to the position of Superintendent of Schools. He earned both a Master of Science in Educational Leadership and a doctorate with a focus on leadership, learning, research, and service at Cardinal Stritch University. Prior to accepting the position as Superintendent for Zion-Benton District 126, Dr. Rodriguez served as Superintendent and Chief Executive Officer for Proviso Township High Schools District 209, serving 10 diverse communities.  His other professional experiences include high school teacher, assistant principal, principal, and regional superintendent of 26, K-8 schools and three high schools serving over 26,000 students. He served multiple governing and executive boards as part of his service leadership platform and has been recognized for his contributions to education at the local, state, and national levels. Dr. Rodriguez has established performance standards and expectations based on a clear vision for success while creating professional learning environments that are inclusive, collaborative, focused on results and driven by highly effective instruction.  Dr. Rodriguez resides in the district with his wife and three children.


Phone: (847) 731-9755

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Dr. Matthew Wilkinson, Chief School Business Official

Dr. Wilkinson has been working in the field of education for over 20 years, and joined District 126 in July of 2019.  He earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from DePaul University, Master’s in Business Administration from the University of Indianapolis, his Superintendent’s credentials through Northern Illinois University, and his doctorate in Educational Leadership from the University of St. Francis.  Prior to joining District 126, Dr. Wilkinson was a Superintendent for six years and a Business Manager/CSBO for fifteen years in three other school districts.  Dr. Wilkinson is a member of the Illinois Association of School Business Officials (IASBO) and the Association of School Business Officials International (ASBO).  As the District’s CSBO, Dr. Wilkinson oversees all business and financial matters, transportation, technology, food service, building and grounds, and capital improvements for District 126.  


Phone: (847) 731-9501

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Dr. Susan Barker, Director of Special Education

Dr. Barker has been working in the field of education for over 25 years. She is currently in her thirteenth year serving as the Director of Special Education for District 126.  She earned an Elementary Teaching Degree from Northern Illinois University and Master's Degree in Special Education from National Louis University. While working as a special education teacher, Dr. Barker earned an Administrative Certificate in Educational Leadership from Concordia University and went on to earn a Doctorate in Educational Leadership from National Louis University. Dr. Barker has a passion for working with animals and Animal Assisted Therapy. She has a licensed therapy dog, "Minnie," who works with her in the District on a regular basis.  Dr. Barker is responsible for the management and oversight of all special education programming and special support services.


Phone: (847) 731-9794

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Dr. Melissa DiGangi, Director of Teaching and Learning

Dr. DiGangi has served the students and families of District 126 since 2005 and is currently in her seventh year as the Director of Teaching and Learning. Prior to serving in this position, Dr. DiGangi served as an English and Reading teacher and English, ELL, and Visual and Performing Arts Division Chair. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in English, with a minor in Secondary Education, from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; her Master of Arts in Education, with a Reading Specialist credential, from Dominican University; her Master of Arts in Educational Leadership from Aurora University; and her Doctor of Education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Dr. DiGangi remains active in the broader educational community, participating in a number of state and local associations.  As Director of Teaching and Learning, Dr. DiGangi oversees the District’s curriculum, professional development, English Language Learner program, and the certified staff evaluation process. 


Phone: (847) 731-9356

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Mr. Jacob Carlson, Director of Student Services

Mr. Jacob Carlson has served District 126 since 1999 and became the District’s Director of Students Services in July of 2020.  Prior to becoming an administrator, Mr. Carlson spent 18 years in the Social Science classroom while coaching Boys and Girls Volleyball along with Boys Basketball.  He then served four years as the Division Chair of NJROTC, Social Science and World Language. He earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Social Science from Carthage College and a Master’s Degree in Administrative Leadership from Aurora University.  As the Director of Student Services, Mr. Carlson oversees all matters related to student registration and placement; local and state assessments; guidance, career, and college planning; credit recovery; student records; health services; and coordination of various student interventions.


Phone: (847) 731-9361

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Mr. Jack Niemi , Executive Director of Athletics

Phone: 847-731-9321

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Mr. Bob Worthington, Director of Safety and Attendance

Bob Worthington has served District 126 since 1995 and is currently in his twenty-fifth year of service. His current role in the district is the Director of Safety and Attendance, for the past 21 years. Prior to his current role, Mr. Worthington served as Assistant Dean Community liaison as well as Dean of Students for 4 years at Zion-Benton Twp. High School. He earned his Bachelor’s Degree from Michigan State University and a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership from National Lewis University. His primary responsibilities include leading district attendance initiatives as well as maintain a safe school environment for students, staff in partnership the community.


Phone: (847) 731-9303

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Dr. Chris Pawelczyk, Principal, Zion-Benton Twp. H.S.

Dr. Pawelczyk has served as Principal of Zion-Benton Twp. High School since 2013.  Prior to this, Dr. Pawelczyk taught high school science and history in the south suburbs of Chicago and worked as an Assistant Principal in the Chicago Public Schools.  He earned a Bachelor's Degree in Liberal Arts and Sciences with a concentration in History from the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign, his certification in Secondary Education from Chicago State University, his Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership from Governors State University, and a Doctorate in Urban Educational Leadership from the University of Illinois at Chicago.  In his role as principal, Dr. Pawelczyk serves as the instructional leader of and lead building administrator for Zion-Benton Twp. High School.


Phone: (847) 731-9803

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Ms. Bonnie Felske, Principal, New Tech @ Zion-Benton East

Bonnie Felske has served District 126 since 2010, serving both as Dean of Students at the Horizon Campus and Assistant Principal at New Tech High @Zion-Benton East. Prior to her role as Assistant Principal, Mrs. Felske taught 7th and 8th grade social science for 15 years in the Zion community.

She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in History and Secondary Education from Lake Forest College and a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction and School Leadership credentials from Concordia University, River Forest, Illinois.



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Mr. Zack Livingston

Zackary Livingston is the son of Derick and 1987 Zion Benton Graduate, Iris Alisha Livingston. Born and raised in Lake County, Illinois, he attended Beach Park and Zion schools. He graduated from Zion Benton Township High School where he credits his interest and desire to work with youth in the surrounding community. After undergraduate school at Southern Adventist University, he came back to be a teacher at Zion Central Middle School district 6, while leading out in the "Young Men of Vision" student leadership organization.

The past four years he has served as an Assistant Principal of Teaching and Learning at North Chicago District 187.

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Ms. Michelle Hassan

Michelle Hassan began her teaching career at the City Colleges of Chicago and continued in various leaderships roles at Westinghouse Career Academy, Chicago Public Schools in the Department of Education to Careers in the Office of High School Programs, Manley Career Academy, Chicago International Charter School, American Quality Schools charter school, Maywood District 89, District 150, and District 209.

She is currently a doctoral candidate studying Leadership, Equity & Inquiry at Illinois State University. She is the proud mother of two adult daughters. Her personal mission is to prepare students for postsecondary education and careers.