Barbara Daush, president of St. Agnes Academy and St. Dominic School, has recently been named chairwoman of the Southern Association of Independent Schools.
Daush was raised in Wilmette, Ill., on the north shore of Chicago, moving to Memphis with her family in the eighth grade and eventually graduating from Wooddale High School. Because of a dedicated and passionate high school teacher, Daush went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in classics and Latin from the University of Mississippi.
“The discipline of that language, it’s so structured that if one can be successful in Latin, then one will be more than likely successful in any other romance language because it’s the root of all of those,” she said.
At the University of Memphis, she received master’s degrees in guidance and counseling, and art and teaching with an emphasis on English and secondary education.
It was the love for a language that would lead Daush into the universe of independent schools.
“Most of the private schools taught Latin and not many of the public schools did, and the ones that did had a longstanding Latin teacher like Wooddale did,” she said. “So the only option for me at the time was in independent schools, and once I got on that path, I just stayed there.”
She taught for three years at Lausanne Collegiate School when it was an all-girls boarding school before moving to Grace-St. Luke’s Episcopal School to teach Latin. Her favorite age range to teach would become seventh and eighth grades.
“I absolutely love teaching junior high,” she said. “I just find that age group so enticing. They’re still trying to please, yet they’re trying to find their independence. So it’s a lot of challenge but so rewarding to help them find their way.”
She became the school’s guidance counselor then its assistant head, and then served as interim head. After 12 years, she moved to head of the lower school at Hutchison School for four years before accepting her current position, where she celebrates her 20th anniversary this year.
She didn’t necessarily pursue an administration position but, in all of her years as a teacher, she says, she “admired those who were in those positions at the schools where I was employed and found that I had wonderful mentors.” She specifically points out the late Jack Stanford from Hutchison, who she called a “visionary leader” and who encouraged her to apply at St. Agnes.
“I always like to say it was God’s plan,” she said. “God opened some doors for me and I went through them.”
In her 20 years as president, Daush has seen enrollment grow from 632 between the two schools to 900 today, and has ushered in physical growth on campus as well as the influx of technology that all educational institutions have faced. She embraced laptops in 2001, and St. Agnes-St. Dominic became the first, first- through 12th-grade school in the nation to go one-to-one (one computer per student).
“My philosophy at the time was that not one child is more or less important than another one, no matter if that child is in first grade or AP psychology or AP history; and no teacher is more or less important than another,” she said. “So as a unit school, I felt like if we were going to take that initiative, we needed to do it together as a family and to learn from each other.”
As for future growth, Daush would like to enhance the math and science buildings to take advantage of up-to-date STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – curriculum. The schools are landlocked on 22 acres in East Memphis, and offsite land for athletic activities is also on the wish list.
She currently sits on the board of the Tennessee Association of Independent Schools, Memphis Association of Independent Schools, board of trustees for the Madonna Learning Center, the board of the Saint Martin De Porres Shrine & Institute at St. Peter’s Catholic Church, and is vice chair of the Coalition of Lighthouse Schools.
The Southern Association of Independent Schools, a 355-member organization representing over 200,000 students, is the largest accrediting agency in the area for such institutions. Daush’s tenure as chair will become effective in January.
“I’m very honored that they would have selected me, and I’m honored to serve,” she said.
She has seen education from every angle and on various fronts over her career, and has never wavered from what it was that first drew her to what she says is her “calling.”
When asked, she responds easily.
“The answer to that question would be on the faces of all the children that I’ve known and loved and encouraged and watched grow up. I find no other reward as fulfilling as working with children of all ages. To me, it’s a gift from God.”