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  1. Business

St. John's day school staff 'happy' to work with children


The day begins with chapel prayer for almost 600 students at three campuses.

Then it's down to business at St. John's Episcopal Parish Day School, a 62-year-old institution in south Tampa.

For Beth McClain, that means showing 5-year-olds how a rectangular prism differs from a cube.

It's teaching them how to handle disappointment and get along in a group.

"The children are precious," she said. "They are loving. They are easy to motivate and they're just fun."

Best of all, said fellow teacher Carrie Fowler, "we get to teach them how to read."

Their enthusiasm, and that of co-workers, made St. John's one of the Tampa Bay area's best places to work in this year's Tampa Bay Times survey.

"We're always happy," Fowler said. "The kids come in and even if you're having a rough day, if something is happening at home, you forget about it."

As a workplace, the school had the most favorable rankings in "connection" and "direction."

Teachers and administrators say a number of factors contribute to those feelings.

Parental support, they say, makes them feel appreciated. A Parents' Club raised $204,137 last year, and much of it is used for classroom supplies on teachers' wish lists.

At a faculty lunch recently, volunteers served barbecue, wearing navy blue aprons embroidered with the school crest.

The administration contributes to the cost of the professional development, up to $1,000 per teacher, and helps with their children's tuition of about $10,000 a year.

"They want you to send your kids here, so they make it happen," said Ana Ibanez, head of the preschool and kindergarten campus.

The school's affiliation with the church provides an added dimension to what the teachers say is a sense of shared mission.

"It's a calling," said McClain, whose two children attended the school. "And when you have that spiritual element, it's even more that way."

Pay and benefits were ranked as relatively insignificant in the workers' responses.

Private schools often pay less than public schools. The tradeoff is that they can select their students, which means there are fewer discipline problems.

St. John's aims to pay competitive salaries, Ibanez said.

The benefits are good and the bureaucracy is less onerous than in the public school system.

"I interned at a public school when I was getting my master's," Ibanez said. "I was shocked. There was a copy time for each teacher to use the machine. A copy time?"

More important, teachers say that when they have a problem with a student, they can call a home and know the parents will back them up.

"When you have parental support, it's a loving and supportive environment," McClain said.

Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or