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Francine Guastello

Associate Professor and Chair

Professor Addresses Society’s Need for Literacy Training

With the implementation of Common Core State Standards, training literacy educators is now a national priority. As a result, St. John’s University’s comprehensive literacy education programs — many of which were designed by Francine Guastello ’79Ed, ’82GEd, ’84PD, ’98Ed.D., Associate Professor and Chair of Human Services — are growing in popularity and earning acclaim for responding to changing social and market trends.

Coordinator of the Graduate Literacy Program in The School of Education (SOE), Dr. Guastello has played a central role in helping St. John’s to become a leader in literacy. In addition to her contributions to the University’s Reading and Writing Education Center, which serves the New York area, she spearheaded the School’s dual master’s degrees, designed nine other literacy programs and helped develop the new doctorate in the field.

“Dr. Guastello has introduced breakthrough concepts like family workshops and multisensory reading techniques,” said Jerrold Ross, Ph.D., Dean of The School of Education. “These achievements, and others, have put St. John’s on the higher education literacy map.”

Dr. Guastello’s interest in literacy began in the fourth grade. “My cousin, who was a classmate, was having a hard time learning how to read,” she said. “It turned out he was dyslexic, but we didn’t know that then. I suggested he try touching and tracing the letters to learn the sounds, and then I read aloud with him. To my amazement, he started to improve. That’s when I first knew I wanted to be a teacher.”

She never veered from this early decision. Having earned four degrees at St. John’s, Dr. Guastello decided she wanted to teach here. “From the moment I set foot on campus in 1976,” she said, “I knew this is where I was meant to be.”  Captivated by the University’s Vincentian values, Dr. Guastello became a faculty member in 1999, finding the fertile ground she needed to grow and realize her potential.

She started her career teaching at Catholic elementary and junior high schools. Eventually becoming a principal, she gained an appreciation for the importance of engaging parents in the education process and the need for promoting a supportive learning community. Later, she drew on these experiences by helping Dean Ross to forge partnerships with New York Catholic schools.

Dr. Guastello actively supports the University’s Vincentian mission. A Seton Associate of the Sisters of Charity (NJ) and Senior Vincentian Research Fellow, she serves on the board of  St. John’s Institute for Catholic Schools and is Co-Director of the institute-funded Project Tie (Training Innovative Teachers). She brings her literacy teaching and diagnostic skills to each of these organizations, also finding time to mentor St. John’s freshmen as part of Project Safe and to contribute her expertise to various University committees.

“The way she gives so selflessly to so many has influenced me tremendously,” said Jaclyn Janaszak ’13Ph.D. Inspired by Dr. Guastello, Dr. Janaszak used her training to tutor a dyslexic woman who sought assistance from the School Sisters of Notre Dame Education Center to prepare for her GED. “I knew this was what Dr. Guastello would do in my place,” Dr. Janaszak said.

“This gives me great satisfaction,” said Dr. Guastello. “But nothing pleases me more than when students tell me I have exposed them to career-enhancing opportunities and given them support when they most needed it.”  

All of which explains why St. John’s presented her with its Medal for Outstanding Achievement, Vincentian Mission and Teaching Excellence and Scholarship Awards.  Honored by this recognition, Dr. Guastello confided, “I never, in a million years, would have imagined that I would chair my department one day.”