HILLCREST — John O’Brien has first-hand experience managing the stress of pursuing a master’s degree in education while raising a young family on the salary of a full-time Catholic school teacher.
He actually has a dual perspective on this challenge, having earned two master’s degrees in education from St. John’s University. He did that while employed as a history teacher at Cathedral Preparatory School and Seminary in Elmhurst, Queens.
Now, he’s the principal at Good Shepherd Catholic Academy in Marine Park, Brooklyn.
“One of the challenges of working in the Catholic school is that the salaries aren’t super-competitive,” he said. “So, any help that a school like St. John’s can offer is definitely needed for our teachers.”
SJU already offers a 40% tuition discount to Catholic school teachers. But the university’s Institute for Catholic Schools recently announced a new scholarship that could cut MS tuition by 30%.
The Catholic School Teacher Scholarship program is being offered to 12 Catholic school educators entering St. John’s graduate degree program in Fall 2022.
A master’s degree is not required to start teaching at public or Catholic school in New York. That’s called “initial” certification. However, “professional certification” is required for a teacher to stay on the job at a public school, and that requires a master’s degree.
But Catholic school educators must also earn this certification to achieve tenure, said Margaret Moss, director of the ICS, which is part of the St. John’s School of Education.
“So, it would be to their benefit — financially and professionally — to have that certification,” Moss said. “Also the longevity in your tenure at the school is important. But sometimes it’s just a cost prohibitive factor for some people.”
At SJU it costs just under $50,000 for the 36-credit MS degree in education, Moss said.
“The data I can glean is that the starting salary in Brooklyn is under $40,000,” she said. “And the average salary at public schools is about $75,000. This is very unfortunate that we have Catholic school teachers who cannot afford to go to a Catholic university. And so how can we help make that happen? This [scholarship] is one way of doing that, even if it’s just a small way to start.”
A savings of $15,000 would result from the scholarship’s tuition cut of 30% That, coupled with St. John’s 40% discount to Catholic school teachers, results in a total savings of 70%.
Moss said out-of-pocket expenses for the recipient would therefore be around $15,000, which is even cheaper than a similar degree from City University of New York. Teachers with professional certifications also benefit the Catholic schools where they work.
St. John’s started the ICS in 2009 to help Catholic schools achieve sustained growth and excellence. To that end, it created professional-development opportunities like workshops and seminars.
Msgr. David Cassato, vicar for Catholic schools in the diocese of Brooklyn, praised St. John’s for starting the new scholarship.
“There is a great relationship between St. John’s University and the diocese,” he said. “And I think this scholarship is a great program that will help stabilize our teachers and keep them from having to go to other places.”
Msgr. Cassato, who is also the pastor of St. Athanasius Parish, said easing the financial burden on teachers lets them focus on other responsibilities.
“To be a teacher anywhere is a lot of work today,” he said. “There’s the crush of time in preparation for classes, plus a tight schedule with their own obligations. So it’s a challenge for teachers to get the degrees that they need to advance in education.”
These issues are front-and-center for Bishop Robert Brennan, who served on the ICS board of directors when he was a priest and, later, auxiliary bishop for the Diocese of Rockville Centre.He was on the board since ICS’s inception in 2009 until 2019 when he left to become Bishop of Columbus, Ohio.
“Catholic school education is more of a vocation than just a job,” Bishop Brennan said. “Many (teachers) are making great sacrifices working at Catholic schools, so any way that we can help them through professional development and the opportunity for advanced degrees helps them accomplish their goals.”
SJU MASTERS IN EDUCATION SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM
Eligibility: Catholic school or academy teachers not enrolled in a master’s program, but do plan to enter St. John’s graduate school for education in Fall 2022. Candidates can apply for the scholarship even if enrollment in St. John’s graduate program is in process or not yet started.
Deadline: April 30, although applications may still be considered after that date.
Contact: Margaret Moss at email@example.com.