Legacy of Leadership

Burroughs was established upon the conviction that each child has latent possibilities of power, and that it is the chief purpose of the school to cooperate with parents in discovering, fostering and developing that power so that in adulthood he shall make his contribution to the improvement of human society. The child’s mind is not a tablet to be written upon or a cistern to be filled, but a living, growing entity to be guided, developed, trained and inspired.

From the 1923 Prospectus

The path from 1923 to the present has been an exceptionally straight one for Burroughs. Nine decades of leadership — six heads of school — have held true to our founders' vision:  progressive education married to the classical tradition in which faculty and students are given freedom and responsibility. With Andy Abbott's appointment as sixth head of school (effective July 1, 2009), we are poised for the future.

The following is a glance at our past, through the leadership of Abbott's predecessors.

Wilford M. Aikin, an acknowledged leader in progressive secondary education, was the first director (headmaster) serving from 1923 until 1935. When Aikin arrived in St. Louis he found only a building site and a small group of focused and determined parents. It was his charge to build a campus, attract a faculty, develop a curriculum and pursue financial stability. During his tenure he was able to translate the progressive ideology into a working reality. Moreover, enrollment increased fourfold, while annual tuition remained a steady $500. Aikin remained aggressively committed to progressive education, and that commitment drew him away from Burroughs to focus his attention on a national effort to study the relation of schools and colleges as chair of the Eight Year Study Project.

Leonard D. Haertter was chosen by the Board of Trustees to fill Aikin’s shoes starting in the 1935-36 school year. Haertter, who had joined the JBS faculty in 1926 as chairman of the mathematics department and had fast become an asset in the athletic department, became the school’s longest-standing headmaster. He is remembered for his direct, earnest involvement with students, his ability to identify and attract an outstanding faculty, his passionate commitment to the Burroughs community and his work with Trustees to facilitate the school’s growth, including establishment of the development program (on which he continued to work in retirement), expansion of the main building and construction of the Memorial Gym and the auditorium. Haertter’s attention to the big picture and to small detail defined his leadership.

William G. Craig succeeded Haertter in the summer of 1964. Craig arrived full of ideas and determined to make change. He came to Burroughs from a post as Director of Training of the Peace Corps in Washington, D.C. Prior to the Peace Corps, Craig had served as an Associate Professor of Education and Dean of Men at Stanford University. During the Craig years, JBS grew from a school to a campus. A headmaster’s house was purchased, and the doors opened on a new library and a new science building. The size of the student body and faculty grew substantially. Craig put a premium on faculty professional development and led the effort to integrate the student body. In the spring of 1966, he announced his decision to accept a government position in the Johnson Administration. The Trustees asked Stanley Sprague, a highly respected member of the Modern Language Department, to serve as interim headmaster as they pursued a permanent successor.

Edward W. Cissel, Assistant Headmaster at Pingry School in New Jersey, agreed to become Burroughs' fourth headmaster in 1967. Significant growth occurred during the 19 years Cissel was at the helm. Faculty members were given opportunities to experiment with the curriculum, along with funds for summer study and enrichment. Higher, more equitable faculty salaries and benefits were a priority. The financial position of the school was strengthened tremendously with an enhanced annual giving program and a strong endowment campaign. Students were given more responsibility for self-government, environmental education benefited from the acquisition of Drey Land, and student community service took on many faces. The campus expanded with the construction of a fine arts building and a sports and performing arts center. Cissel and his wife, Jane, who is remembered as a major JBS force in her own right, were named “Honorary Alumni.” Only five others have received this recognition in the school's history.

Keith E. Shahan ’62 brought extensive experience in public, private and international education and an acute sense of the school, its history and its philosophy when he became headmaster in 1986. Reflecting his immediate past experience at the International School of Amsterdam, Burroughs assumed a greater global awareness — including student participation in The Hague International Model United Nations, student exchanges through the American Field Service and sister-school programs abroad. One of Shahan's early and central priorities was strengthening the faculty through recruitment, improved salaries and benefits, regular evaluation, vastly increased professional development funds and a sabbatical program. He lowered student loads for teachers, reduced class sizes and placed increased emphasis on each of the school’s traditional four “A’s” — academics, arts, athletics and activities — and the balance among them. Under his direction there has been a marked expansion in support for students, increased tuition aid and community-wide dedication to diversity and multiculturalism. In addition, Shahan has devoted considerable effort to bolstering the school’s financial security through steady growth of the endowment and expansion and enhancement of the campus through development of a master plan to meet the needs and talents of students and faculty for decades to come.