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McDonogh School serves students through empowered educators

For the Baltimore Sun

With its immaculate 800-acre campus, state-of-the-art facilities and free meals, it might seem self-evident why employees rated McDonogh School the top midsize workplace in the region.

But when the faculty and staff were asked why they loved their jobs, not a single response — and there were many — made mention of the amenities.

"The culture of the place is what's really important," said Associate Headmaster Tim Fish. "I think we do a great job on the sort of normal HR benefits, but it goes beyond that. It's the notion that 'I'm working as part of a team that has this incredible vision and culture.'"

The roots of that culture run deep. When the institution was founded in 1873 as a farm school for poor and orphaned boys, it was built upon guiding principles established by John McDonogh: Celebrate hard work, promote joy through accomplishment and, most of all, "Do the greatest possible amount of good." Over the years, those principles have infused an ethos that permeates the campus.

"This is truly an institution founded upon a set of values — values that we post on the walls and talk about every day and do our best to live up to," one employee wrote.

Just as the school's values extend far beyond the classroom, so do the relationships. There is a belief at McDonogh that teachers and students are at their best when they develop strong interpersonal bonds. That's why 20 percent of the faculty lives on campus, and it is not uncommon for them to host students for dinner or other events during the week.

"There's a sense of community that is really deep here," said Fish, who lives with his wife and children in an on-campus house. "For me, McDonogh literally is not just my job, it is my home. And that changes things."

The school also gets the best out of students and staff alike by putting a strong emphasis on creativity and innovation. The administration is willing to invest in the passions of faculty members, knowing the benefits to the academic community at large. An eighth-grade science teacher, for example, built an entire unit on robotics into the curriculum after spending a summer researching the subject.

"It's safe to try something, to push yourself out on the edge a little bit, and know that the community's going to embrace you. And that's very, very important," Fish said.

McDonogh's employees are granted the type of workplace most academics could only dream of: a challenging environment backed by a high level of support, a clear sense of mission, and an expansive array of resources at their disposal. Supported by the school, faculty members can attend conferences across the country, collaborate with colleagues over the summer, or simply host members of their department for dinner if it helps them succeed in the classroom.

"We're always asking ourselves, 'What does the best possible teaching and learning environment look like today? What's really relevant for kids? What are they going to need to know and be able to do in the future?'" Fish said.

The pursuit of academic success is endless for faculty and staff at McDonogh, but it serves as an example for the students whose lives they shape each day. The school's commitment to innovation, culture and community produces students who are well-positioned for success and employees who love coming to work.

"Every day I drive onto this beautiful campus and can't believe how lucky I am to be at McDonogh. I work with bright, committed colleagues who enjoy learning from each other and from their students," one employee summarized. "I've traveled with McDonogh, I've taken classes with my students, I've been encouraged to develop programs because I think they will benefit students and the school. I feel valued. It doesn't get any better than that!"

At A Glance

Founded: 1873

Ownership: Private

Sector: Education

Locations: 1

Local employees: 362

Website: http://www.mcdonogh.org

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