Paying it Forward

Annual appeal helps Catholic educators advance their own education

By Christina Gray

The late South African president Nelson Mandela famously said that “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” That is the spirit behind the Educators Incentive Grant Program, a tuition assistance program offered by the Archdiocese of San Francisco to help Catholic school teachers and administrators advance their own capabilities through continuing education.

By helping educators with some of the financial burdens of professional development, archdiocesan Catholic schools are benefiting from the knowledge they bring back to the schools and students they serve. The grant is also helping retain its best educators, according to one past recipient.

“It’s just a win-win, for everybody,” said Dr. Lara de Guzman, in her fifth year as principal of Our Lady of the Visitacion School in San Francisco. It helped her pursue a doctoral degree in Catholic educational leadership at the University of San Francisco, where she also received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

The program’s outcomes include the ability to communicate the vision, mission and values of Catholic education, understanding of current research and methodologies in Catholic education, and learning how to apply Gospel values and Catholic social teaching to all aspects of their leadership.

“The doctoral program helped me see the world through a different lens,” said Dr. de Guzman. “It helped me understand the importance of being a culturally competent and responsive school leader, and gave me the tools to be able to be that.”

Three other teachers at the school have been recipients of the grant, she said.

Being a principal is hard work, de Guzman admitted, with increased demands and responsibilities beyond the classroom. It also includes, but is not limited to, managing enrollment, facilities, finances, and the Catholic identity of the school.

In the case of OLV School, serving an ethnically diverse immigrant population, this includes constantly working toward making sure all voices are heard.

“The world is always changing, and as educators we need to be equipped with the tools that lead to informed decision making,” said Dr. de Guzman, an immigrant from the Philippines herself and the school’s first principal who is a person of color. “That’s what I feel that I have now, through not only my experiences, but also my education.”

The Educator Incentive Grant Program, made possible by the funds received through the Archdiocesan Annual Appeal, provides partial tuition reimbursement grants for Catholic elementary and secondary school teachers and administrators. The grants, up to $2,000 a year, cover postgraduate degree programs or certificate programs at accredited colleges or universities.

To qualify, applicants must work at a school location within the Archdiocese and agree to continue working for the Department of Catholic Schools for three years upon completion of their education. They must also be recommended for the grant by a senior administrator, a supervisor or pastor.

Professional growth in the areas of school administration, theology, mathematics, science and effective use of technology in classroom instruction are priorities for the Department of Catholic Schools, said Gustavo Torres, principal of Good Shepherd School in Pacifica and former recipient of the EIG grant. He continues to serve the program as its administrator.

Preference will be given to applicants for study in these areas and to those closest to completing their degree, he said.

“This program has assisted the Archdiocese in not only retaining faculty and principals in our schools, but also in enabling them to expand their professional knowledge and grow professionally,” said Torres. In 2020, Torres was accepted into the University of Notre Dame’s master’s degree program in theology. Despite the interruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, he completed his degree in June 2023, and accepted the position as Good Shepherd principal the next month.

“It was a wonderful opportunity that allowed me to join a community of leaders › in the church and Catholic education,” said Torres. He said last year the EIG program provided 55 educators in the Archdiocese with nearly $80,000 in tuition grants. He reads the recommendations required of applicants from administrators, principals or pastors, and makes recommendations to the superintendent of schools, who makes final approval of the grants. 

Dr. de Guzman worked for Catholic institutions including the University of San Francisco for 20 years, and even left education altogether for a time before she responded to a “calling” to become a Catholic school leader.

As a recipient of the EIG grant, she encourages her teachers to apply for the grant and use it to develop themselves professionally.

“I am grateful to the supporters of the Annual Appeal,” she said. “You have made a tremendous impact on my life and the life of my students.” 

Christina Gray is the lead writer for Catholic San Francisco.

Learn how your annual gift improves the quality of catholic education by visiting https://sfarchdiocese.org/aaa/