By Kevin Kelley
St. Bernadette School Principal John Stipek graduated from college with a teaching certification. But he didn’t take a teaching job for another 24 years.
Stipek, 58, who is in his first year as principal of the Westlake Catholic school, is among a growing number of educators who took a nontraditional route to the classroom. According to the National Center for Education Information, 54,000 of new teacher hires at public schools in 2007-2008 — about one-third — were “delayed entrants,” people who had a college degree but had not entered teaching right out of college.
In addition to his teaching certificate, Stipek earned an economics degree from Xavier University. After working for more than two decades in sales in the food industry, Stipek was let go after his employer went through a merger. His wife, Sue, suggested he go into teaching.
He was hired to teach math at St. Angela School in Fairview Park, where he taught for five years.
The career switch wasn’t that difficult, the father of five said.
“I’ve always been involved with kids,” he said, referring to volunteer coaching duties he took on over the years.
His background enabled him to use sales procedures as examples in his math classes, he said. But Stipek said his business world experience was even more valuable when he later became an administrator. His first job as principal was at Our Lady of Good Counsel School in Cleveland. Three years later, he was named principal of St. Mary School in Avon, where he spent three years.
Despite his nontraditional resume, Stipek believes someone with a vocation to teach will excel at the profession regardless of his or her background.
“I think many people have the calling of being a teacher and can step right into the classroom and be a success,” said Stipek, who earned a master’s degree in education administration from Ashland University.
At St. Bernadette, Stipek is in the process of revamping the math curriculum, with the goal of offering advanced classes that will enable students to test out of introductory high school classes.
Technology at the school has also been updated, with Smart Boards now installed in all classrooms, said Stipek. The school has also purchased a mobile lab of 30 iPads and a wireless microscope.
St. Bernadette also plans to open a preschool for 4-year-olds this August, said Stipek, who grew up in Lakewood and attended St. James grade school, graduating from St. Edward High School.
Like many Catholic schools, St. Bernadette has seen a drop in enrollment in recent years. But Stipek noted that an open house Jan. 29, scheduled in conjunction with Catholic Schools Week, was well-attended and garnered new student registrations from four families.
“We’re very hopeful that our numbers will be going up,” Stipek said.
Asked what’s unique about St. Bernadette School, Stipek said it has a very strong family base with a tradition of alumni who send their children to the school.
“They have a true love of the school,” he said of students’ parents.
He also touted the school’s facilities and campus, which now includes an outdoor garden each class will help to cultivate.
Parents report their kids like going to school, Stipek said.
“If that’s the case, I think we’re on the path to success,” he said.