TEACHING AND LEARNING - ST. LOUIS UNIVERSITY HIGH SCHOOL; Support for Professional Development Builds Enthusiasm; 2013 TOP WORKPLACES

By Tomich, Jeffrey | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), June 23, 2013 | Go to article overview

TEACHING AND LEARNING - ST. LOUIS UNIVERSITY HIGH SCHOOL; Support for Professional Development Builds Enthusiasm; 2013 TOP WORKPLACES


Tomich, Jeffrey, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


For Mary Russo and the other teachers and staff at St. Louis University High School, the pace of life slows with the start of summer break.

But not much. Russo, a teacher at the Jesuit preparatory high school for boys for the past 12 years, will attend three conferences this summer as she prepares for the next academic year, the next class of students.

While a stagnant economy has led some employers to cut back on professional development, St. Louis University High encourages employees to attend conferences and workshops or continue their post- graduate education. The school, in fact, paid for virtually all of Russo's second master's degree at Washington University.

"They want us out there learning and doing things," she said. "St. Louis University High really ensures I'm getting whatever I'm hungry for so I can be the best teacher in the classroom. And if I can be effective in the classroom I feel happy and I feel good about what I'm doing."

The emphasis on professional development is among the reasons the school, with 1,100 students and 158 employees, was ranked as the top- scoring organization in the mid-size employer category of this year's Post-Dispatch sponsored survey of Top Workplaces.

Faculty, staff and administrators say the school's push for continuous improvement in its students and its workforce is rooted in its Jesuit mission.

"It's talked about every day and it's lived out every day," said David Mouldon, a counselor at St. Louis University High for 36 years. "The whole Jesuit philosophy is very, very strongly felt from the students to the faculty to the upper administrators."

David Laughlin, St. Louis University High's president since 2005, said the school's identity is unique and is a product of its long history, which stretches back nearly two centuries.

"All of us stand on the shoulders of the giants before us," he said. "We have a longevity here that translates in a culture more than something leadership does."

Laughlin said teachers and staff at the school have a long history of helping newer employees learn the school's mission and culture.

"We have a lot of longevity and a lot of high-achieving faculty who, when new people come in, are good about trying to take them under their wing and make sure they understand."

Founded in 1818 as a Latin school for boys, St. Louis University High School just graduated its 196th class. It is the oldest private Catholic high school west of the Mississippi River.

The school, founded in a one-story house at the corner of Third and Market streets, has been at its present location on Oakland Avenue, across from Forest Park and next to the St. Louis Science Center, since the 1920s.

Today, St. Louis University High is ranked in the top 7 percent of schools in the nation for highest composite ACT score. It produces dozens of National Merit Scholarship finalists and semi- finalists each year. And nearly all students go on to attend a four- year college.

There are high standards for teachers, too. About 95 percent have master's degrees, and all are required to have advanced degrees within five years of employment.

Despite rigorous standards, faculty and staff say they're given enormous freedom to do their jobs without administrators peering over their shoulders.

"There are very few conversations about performance," Mouldon said. "It's just expected that we're doing a good job. We have an evaluation system, but it's very informal. It's more of a conversation."

Employees say they're provided ample space and resources to do their jobs, such as iPads for all teachers who want them, and administrators are open to provide almost anything they need to help them do their job effectively.

Russo, who teaches biology and chemistry, said her course load of four classes is less than the five- or six-class load that's standard at many other schools, giving her more time to focus on students.

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