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