McDonogh School is 'a very happy place'


Growing campus has everything students need from state-of-the-art classrooms to a driven faculty and staff

  • Science teacher, Bob Mahon works through problems with his freshman physics class.
Science teacher, Bob Mahon works through problems with his… (Doug Kapustin / Baltimore…)
December 05, 2013|By Marianne Amoss, Special to The Baltimore Sun

Talk to faculty and staff about McDonogh School, and sooner or later you’ll hear one word: joy. 

“When we say in our mission we are a place of joy, we mean it,” said Merritt Livermore, associate dean of the middle school. “I feel blessed that I get to work with the amazing people that I work with. It’s not just my colleagues and the staff and faculty. It’s the parents and the kids. That combination makes this a very happy place.”

McDonogh is a private, coeducational K-12 school located on a rolling 800-acre campus in Owings Mills. Each of the schools — lower, middle and upper — has its own building, complete with a library, science labs, arts facilities and technology centers. 

The grounds include a 5,000 seat-stadium, 20 tennis courts, and a 70-stall barn. Just under 1,300 students attend McDonogh, with about 100 upper-school students living on campus during the week. Tuition at the school today ranges from $23,470 for the lower school to $35,100 for the upper school with boarding, and about 20 percent of its students receive financial aid. 

As part of the campus master plan, 100,000 square feet of new space is on the way, including the Naylor STEM Building, which opened in late August with state-of-the-art classrooms that support McDonogh’s burgeoning robotics program, and the Edward St. John Student Center. Set to open in February, the center will include upper- and lower-school arts classrooms, the 165-seat Klein Lyceum and the Brass Eagle snack bar, its name an homage to the school’s semi-military format in the 1800s and early 1900s.

McDonogh was founded by John McDonogh in 1873 as a school for poor boys. Today’s students, faculty and staff strive to continue following McDonogh’s “rules for living,” which center on doing “the greatest possible amount of good.” In the eyes of the faculty and staff, that means always putting the students first.

“Every decision that every educator makes on this campus, from administrators to classroom teachers to housekeeping staff and food service workers … they think of through the filter of, ‘Is it best for the kids?’ ” Livermore said.

Livermore, a 1991 graduate of McDonogh, planned to spend her career in the public education system. In 1999, attracted by a technology coordinator position in the upper school, she returned to her alma mater. She’s now associate dean of the middle school, returning to the grade levels in which she’d specialized in the public school system.

“We talk about it for kids all the time that it’s a place of opportunity, but it’s that way for adults as well. McDonogh has allowed me to grow in areas that I have become passionate about,” she said. “They never pigeonhole you. They never say, ‘You’re stuck in this forever.’ You can evolve.”

Employees say they have a great deal of confidence in Headmaster Charles Britton. Livermore said he is a constant positive presence. 

“He makes a very concerted effort to make personal touches with his faculty, whether it’s handwritten notes once a week to members of the community that have done something noteworthy, or whether it’s just walking around to the buildings — what we call in the middle school ‘Charlie’s walkabouts,’ ” she said. “He’ll walk the halls — not in a ‘You ought to be in class, son’ [way] but in a, ‘Hey, how you doin’, good to see you’ [way] — just checking in.”

For Britton’s part, it all comes back to that one word. 

“We really try to make the experience at McDonogh — whether it’s daily, monthly or yearly — a joyous one,” he said. “I think you could talk to most of the people who work here, and they’d say they feel that every day.”

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