St. Mary School in Mokena welcomes Michele Alday-Engelman as its next school principal. Mrs. Alday-Engelman has 26 years of teaching and administrative experience and most recently served as Principal of St. Stanislaus Kostka School in the Archdiocese of Chicago.
Mrs. Alday-Engelman earned her Bachelor of Education from Northern Illinois University and a Master of Education from the University of Illinois in Chicago. She is also a doctoral candidate in the Administration and Supervision Program at Loyola University Chicago, and she is on course to earn her Doctorate in Education this May.
We recently sat down with Mrs. Alday-Engelman to get to know her better personally and professionally.
What is your teaching philosophy?
“My teaching philosophy has always been to educate the whole child and do what’s best to meet that student’s needs to develop them to become productive citizens of society.”
What made you want to be a principal?
“I’ve been in education for over 25 years and have been everything from an assistant teacher, to teacher, to assistant principal, to principal. Starting out, it was never my intention to become a principal. It was just something I found encouragement from others to do. I wanted to become more of a voice of what we’re doing for the students. I really wanted to develop the whole child. The faith piece, the academics, the building of the community and family and helping kids to explore their interest in life. That’s really what I wanted to do and why I’m here today.”
What role has the Catholic faith played in your life, and why did you choose the Catholic school system?
“I’ve been a practicing Catholic my whole life. I’m still a parishioner in the parish that I grew up in (St. John Brebeuf in Niles). Working at a Catholic school allows me to continue my faith formation that began during childhood with my parents instilling it in me. I did start in public education, but when I went to Loyola University for my doctorate, I left my cohort and moved onto the Catholic school system because I felt that servant leadership and the things we do for the best of the child is the work that I really wanted to do. I wanted to help develop in children the same faith foundation upon which I was raised.”
What attracted you to St. Mary in Mokena?
“My commute to the city was really weighing on me, so I was looking for something the Holy Spirit was calling me to. After researching Mokena and the good things that were happening here, I felt it was a close-knit family community. During my first time here in May, I admired the connection between everyone—from parishioners, to teachers, to kids. Everyone was so involved and went above and beyond to help you feel included. That really stood out to me.”
How have you navigated the challenges of Covid in your previous administrative positions, and what is your plan to do so at St. Mary?
“I think last year, the top priority was to provide students with the education and continued faith development that we could within very structured guidelines, and we were able to do that. Consistency and communication with families was key to doing that. I think this year brings more normalcy into children’s and parent’s lives. Kids aren’t losing out on instruction and interaction with each other.”
With tensions so high in local school districts regarding mask mandates, restrictions, etc. what is your message to parents and students, regardless of where they fall on the issue?
“I follow the Diocese of Joliet guidelines. Working here, I just have to move forward with that. I understand everyone has their own concerns, and I hear you, but I’m just following what is being put forward.”
What are three things you hope to accomplish as principal of St. Mary School?
“Nothing can be done all in one year. I want to learn what’s working well and what can be tweaked. I really want to continue building that faith piece into everything that we do so students see it goes beyond religion class or Mass once a week. I think St. Mary has already started doing that. This year’s theme is planting the seeds of faith. I want the teachers to think about how they can implement that theme.
I also want to continue the academic component with the curriculum development. There’s always room for growth. They’re doing good things; the question is how to make them better.
Finally, I want to bring us together as a parish and school. How do we work better as one community, as one whole? It takes a lot of work and can be tough. Fortunately, Father Dindo has a very supportive parish team and that’s not something I always see.”
How was the first week of school?
“The first week of school was filled with excitement in having all the students back in the building and focusing on school-wide practices.”
Can you tell us a little bit about your family?
“I just celebrated 16 years of marriage, and I have two daughters at home. My oldest just received the Sacrament of Confirmation. The youngest one will receive her First Communion this year. I really enjoy our time at home as a family, especially the Sunday dinners and celebrating with extended family. It has always meant a lot for me, and I think that extends from my own Catholic beliefs. Just as I enjoy carrying out the faith tradition in my family, I want to see it carried out with the kids here at St. Mary too.”
What are your hobbies?
“I used to be a basketball player through high school and into college, so I do enjoy sports. My daughters are avid ice skaters, and I enjoy watching them skate. I like to be outside as much as I can and walking on trails. I also enjoy reading material that takes me out of educator mood, like a good mystery.”
Given your athletic background, you’re probably excited about the sports program at St. Mary?
“Yes, it’s a beautiful gym. And I’m excited that we’re starting cross country this year. I think kids should be involved in as many different extracurricular activities as possible to really find their passion in life.”