CHINATOWN — Principal Phyllis Cavallone-Jurek will be honored Saturday as the 2017 recipient of the Stanley C. Golder Leadership Award for the 13 years of work she has put into St. Therese Chinese Catholic School.
A former CPS middle school and high school math teacher, Cavallone-Jurek signed on to St. Therese in Summer 2004 when the school’s finances and enrollment were lacking.
“When she came in, we were really at the depths of the lowest low,” said Lisa Oi, a former teacher and now assistant principal at St. Therese.
The school’s power even got shut off in the winter of Cavallone-Jurek’s first year. Having been at the school for 20 years, Oi has seen Cavallone-Jurek’s impact on the school’s students, staff and the Chinatown community.
“Phyllis was able to really turn us around by finding us the donors that we needed to get the tools, resources that we so desperately needed,” Oi said.
With a student body roughly 70 percent Chinese-American, Cavallone-Jurek has ensured culture is a part of the school’s identity while at the same time diversifying coursework and activities. St. Therese offers Mandarin and Spanish language classes as well as courses in computer programming.
Debra Chen has seen the school progress over the years as a student and now teacher. A graduate of St. Therese, Chen has taught second grade at the school for eight years.
"It's comforting to see that the new generation here is able to tap into these resources,” Chen said. “It's all been Phyllis' doing."
Thomas Howard, director of religious education at St. Therese classifies Cavallone-Jurek as a “servant leader” modeled after Jesus Christ. He said the principal has no problem pitching in to help, cleaning the floors or volunteering for crossing guard duty if needed.
“She never would ask you to do something she wouldn’t be willing to do herself,” Howard said.
Cavallone-Jurek’s colleagues credit her for providing them with professional development opportunities, but the principal’s unwavering focus is always the students.
"As a community, as a society, as an educator, when we put children first, we transform and do incredible things," Cavallone-Jurek said.
The St. Therese community is proud of Cavallone-Jurek and the recognition she has received from the award. But they doubt it will slow the principal down.
“She will just continue to motivate herself to keep pushing and enriching the school,” Chen said. “She won’t stop.”
The school currently has a waitlist for enrollment and is seeking to expand beyond its building on West 23rd Street.
Cavallone-Jurek was notified of her award at a surprise ceremony on March 23 and instantly broke into tears.
The Stanley C. Golder Leadership Award has been given as part of the Golden Apple Awards since 2014. Cavallone-Jurek will receive her award along with 10 recipients of the Golden Apple Award for Teaching. Cavallone-Jurek is the first recipient of the leadership award from a Catholic school.
Saturday’s award ceremony will take place at WTTW Channel 11’s studio and be livestreamed on Golden Apple's Facebook page starting at 2:30 p.m.