Kelly Foyle Honored with 2020 Pressley Award for Excellence in Catholic Education
“My job is to help your children become saints.”
Several times over the past 12 years, Kelly Foyle has stood in front of Catholic school families and offered these words on Back-to-School Night.
Kelly has made this declaration as an elementary teacher, a middle school teacher, a campus minister, and a school leader. She has stated it in a classroom at St. John Vianney School in Goodyear, Arizona; the cafeteria at Immaculate Conception-St. Joseph School in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood; and in the gymnasium at St. Barnabas School on Chicago’s South Side. No matter where she serves or what her role happens to be, the goal remains the same: help kids become saints.
“That’s what really keeps me coming back to serve Catholic school families year after year,” Kelly said.
It is because of this dedication and commitment to Catholic schools that Kelly has been honored with the 2020 Michael Pressley Award for Excellence in Catholic Education.
Named after Dr. Michael Pressley, ACE’s first academic director, the honor is presented annually to two graduates of the ACE Teaching Fellows program who have distinguished themselves by making significant contributions to the ministry of Catholic education. Tim Woodward, a member of ACE 18 who now teaches literature at Cristo Rey Dallas College Prep, is this year's other winner of the award.
Kelly’s first exposure to Catholic schools came as a student when her parents enrolled her and her twin sister Marisa at Holy Family Catholic School in St. Petersburg, Florida.
“We were blessed to go to Catholic schools from kindergarten through 12th grade,” Kelly said. “Growing up, our faith was always an important part of what we did as a family. My mom still serves on the staff at our elementary school, and we were involved in various ministries and service opportunities.”
From there, the pair matriculated to St. Petersburg Catholic High School where then-ACE teacher Gina Navoa Svarovsky served on the faculty, coached sports teams, led retreats, and gave the Foyle sisters their first exposure to the graduate teaching program at Notre Dame. Gina is now the director of the Program for Research and Evaluation in the Institute for Educational Initiatives and on the faculty of the Notre Dame Center for STEM Education.
“Gina was one of the most phenomenal educators, always incorporating faith into every aspect of the classroom and volleyball court,” Kelly said. “Those experiences, combined with research opportunities at Catholic schools in college [at the University of South Florida] and time spent with the Salesian sisters, really made teaching with ACE seem like a great opportunity.“
After graduating from USF, Kelly and Marisa were both accepted into the 15th cohort of ACE Teaching Fellows, with Kelly serving with the Phoenix community as a fourth-grade teacher at St. John Vianney and Marisa going to Kansas City.
When asked to reflect on their time together at St. John Vianney, Kelly’s colleague and community member Francisco Castillo-Fierro said, “Kelly brought such contagious positivity and a spirit of hard work to her role, and she served as a constant inspiration throughout our two years in Phoenix and beyond.”
The “beyond” part of Francisco’s statement refers to the additional year that Kelly served at St. John Vianney before moving to Chicago to join Immaculate Conception-St. Joseph School. She served that community for seven years in numerous capacities, including fourth-grade teacher, middle school religion teacher, and campus minister. During these years, she began to more seriously consider school leadership.
“Leadership has always been in the back of my mind,” Kelly said. “I don’t lead from the top down, I prefer to lead with people, and I feel like it was a deeper calling that was revealed over a period of time.”
It probably didn’t hurt that almost everyone she encountered kept peppering her with questions about when she would make the move into administration.
“The final tipping point—I remember this vividly—came at an ACE football tailgate on a lovely fall day,” Kelly said. “Erin Wibbens came up to me and asked, ‘So, when are you going to apply to the Remick Leadership Program?’ I literally went home that weekend and started my application.”
After completing the application process, Kelly was admitted into the 15th cohort of the Mary Ann Remick Leadership program, and prepared to receive a Master of Arts in Educational Leadership in the summer of 2018.
As someone so committed to serving Catholic schools, no one would have faulted Kelly if she chose to dedicate her remaining “free time” to one of her other passions, like training for a marathon (she’s completed nine in nine different states), writing poetry, engaging with the young adult community at her parish, or following her favorite college basketball team (a state school located in East Lansing, Michigan).
While still carving out time for each of those endeavors, Kelly looked at her Remick classmates, saw so many phenomenal leaders from Chicago, such as Kristy Hable and Tony Harris, and envisioned what they could do to help Catholic schools, the ACE teachers in the archdiocese, and the large number of ACE grads who call Chicago home.
Kelly reached out to Kati Macaluso, the director of ACE Advocates, about stepping into a leadership role with the ACE graduates and friends in the Chicago area–important work that continues even now as she begins her third year as the assistant principal at St. Barnabas on the city’s South Side.
With Kelly’s leadership, the Chicago Advocates have rallied around the ACE Teaching Fellows community in Chicago, stocking their fridge with groceries and regularly providing them with home-cooked meals. The group has also successfully organized a number of Masses for the community, including an annual Back-to-School Mass celebrated by ACE priests.
“The main part of why I stay involved with ACE Advocates in Chicago is that it connects me and my community to a national network,” Kelly said. “That network, in addition to providing opportunities for spiritual and professional growth, makes me acutely aware that I am part of a larger mission.
“Knowing that there are so many others out there fighting the good fight makes me both hopeful and energized.”