Kelly Sloan, the principal at St. Madeleine Sophie School since 2013, says, "she can't imagine not being with the kids every day." (Mike Matvey photo)
Kelly Sloan, the principal at St. Madeleine Sophie School since 2013, says, "she can't imagine not being with the kids every day." (Mike Matvey photo)

It’s hard to imagine St. Made­leine Sophie School without Kelly Sloan.

The principal is as much a part of the school as the bricks that built it and the books that educate its young minds. She has lived most of her life in the halls as a student then as parent and teacher, and finally becoming principal in 2013. When talking to Sloan, she speaks of the school with love, of it being a second home to her family, as well as home to all families that send their children there. 

Sloan, always upbeat, makes sure the children’s intellectual and spiritual needs are met, guiding her capable staff in this endeavor. And the school, which runs from pre-K to fifth grade is thriving this year with 208 students, with capacity at just around 225.

“I love what I do, so being here makes me happy,” said Sloan. “I do think about these kids and these parents and my faculty like they are part of my family. It’s to the point that when I am on vacation, I know something is up. I get that instinct about them and not just my own kids. I love that people here love my own kids like they are part of their family.”

Sloan and her educators even surprise some parents with a simple gesture that goes a long way.

“The parents always think it’s an extraordinary thing that we know each (child’s) name. But to all of us that is important; not just the kids in our class but every one of them. And that every one of them matters,” Sloan said. “When we have meetings, (it’s important) we know each child and making sure each child is getting what they need no matter what that is. And we are all working together for that. It’s not just my class or this group, it’s each individual child.”

Impressed yet? 

That’s why it’s hard to imagine a more deserving principal this year to receive The Bishop Howard J. Hubbard Distinguished Principal Award which recognizes an administrator “who promotes Catho­lic education, seeking to foster a Christian community of love in which God’s truth and life are integrated into the entire curriculum and life of a school community. The administrator has demonstrated skilled leadership in inviting the Church community, teachers, and parents to share in this mission.” 

“It’s definitely very humbling,” Sloan said of the award. “Especially the people who have received it before me. I remember … when I was teaching and seeing the people (who won the award) and respecting them. And working with them as a principal, I got to know them even better. It’s very daunting and humbling that I am receiving it.”

Sloan and all the award recipients will be honored at the Catholic Schools Week Mass on Sunday, Jan. 26, at 2 p.m. at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. Father Robert Longobucco, Vicar General and Vicar for Faith Formation and Education, will be the celebrant.

“Principal Sloan is an all-around champion for Catholic education. Her passion is inspiring and her enthusiasm is contagious,” said Giovanni Virgiglio, diocesan chancellor and superintendent of schools. “Like our school’s beloved patroness, St. Madeleine Sophie, simply put — Ms. Sloan is a humble leader who brings joy to others.”   

This Catholic educational journey started at the same school nearly four decades ago.  

“It was a big deal for (my parents) to send myself, I have two sisters and a brother, we all went to Catholic school. And to be here from kindergarten through eighth grade, I just remember my childhood was wonderful,” Sloan said. “I loved it. I loved being here. I always felt like this was my home.”

And it continued when her daughters — Molly, Abigail and Madeleine — attended the school and also later worked in the pre-K. Her husband, Scott, is also a teacher at Sheridan Preparatory Academy in Albany. Along the way, there were many who inspired Sloan. Two, however, quickly came to mind: Sister Maureen Foy, her principal when she attended St. Madeleine Sophie, and Claude Palczak, whom she taught with at St. Paul’s in Schenectady. 

“As a little kid, I was in awe of (Sister Maureen). I loved that she was strict and I am not that. But she would come to the doors and you knew that she cared about you — and her signature saying was “Hi-ya” — so even though she was very strict that “Hi-ya” (made you feel at ease). Everything she did for us, you knew she was doing out of love, no matter how intense. She was wonderful. She will forever be someone that I respect.

“(Claude Palczak) was at St. Paul’s when I taught there for two years and he was just another one with a great sense of humor, no nonsense, and everything was about the kids. No matter what kind of demeanor they had, and they could be intimidating, but you always knew their first and most important thing was about the kids, and how much they loved them and they were safe and taken care of.”

Love. Faith. Family. These are words you hear over and over again from educators who work at Catholic schools in the Diocese. Each and every teacher and principal could probably make more money in the public sector but this is more than a job, it is a vocation.

Sloan relishes the religious component and helps her younger teachers who may at first be uncomfortable with that part of the job. It also helps that the church, which Sloan and her family attend, is literally right behind the school.

“That was my biggest thing that I worried most about in the beginning. That we identify as a Catholic school. There’s nothing else that’s more important than our Catholic identity as schools are everywhere, but this is what makes us different,” Sloan said. “It’s what I feel the most responsible for because the teachers all know what they are doing in the classroom and I trust them completely, but in order for a school to feel and have the climate of a Catholic school it has to be something that somebody is focusing on all the time.

“I think (making it a priority) makes it easier for teachers, especially sometimes for newer teachers who aren’t as comfortable teaching their faith. They might be comfortable practicing it, but sometimes teaching it is awkward. I try to give them resources to make it so they can absolutely convey it to the kids and feel comfortable doing that.” 

Sloan feels so comfortable at St. Madeleine Sophie — saying she “can be her complete self here” — that she couldn’t fathom teaching or working anywhere else.

“I would never want to go any higher. I have my school district leadership certificate and all that, but I can’t imagine not being with kids every day. Because, if nothing else, no matter the hard decisions you are making and all the paperwork you are doing, at least I can go out my door and see them.”