At New Canaan Country School, learning to love work
"I was impressed with the beauty and the size of the school. It was like this little gem," said Mendoza, the school's maintenance assistant. "Like I was in another world."
Mendoza and other employees at New Canaan Country School, which offers classes from preschooler to ninth grade, nominated their employer as one of the region's top workplaces. It is the first time in the three years that a school has earned a spot on Hearst Connecticut Newspapers' annual list. Graduates of the school, which sits on a 75-acre campus that boasts hiking trails, go on to some of the most exclusive prep schools in the country and later, to some of the most competitive colleges in America.
While it's well known for its educational excellence, Mendoza and his 170 fellow workers know it as a great place to earn a living.
One of the things that is so striking about New Canaan Country School is the setting.
More InformationNew Canaan Country School Inc.
Year founded 1916
Pre-K through 9th grade
75 Acre Campus
Take field trips to Florida Keys, Yellowstone
Offers some staff housing
"Even the air is different -- it's clean. Everything is green," said Mendoza, who grew up in a large sprawling city in Colombia. He said the pace is slower at New Canaan Country.
Mendoza had been working at Pitney Bowes for almost three years when, in 1992, his brother told him about a temporary opening at a private school in New Canaan.
"My brother said `It's not much, but it's a start,' " Mendoza said.
He got an interview and drove out to school in an old truck. He fell in love with the place right away and worked his way out of the kitchen and onto the maintenance staff.
Since gaining employment there, he's gotten married, bought a home in Norwalk and now his children will be able to attend the school.
"It's been a blessing," he said.
Tim Bazemore, head of school, said he was curious why more schools don't make lists like this.
"It's a wonderful working environment," he said. "Where else can you be with children every day, share in their wonder and joy?"
One reason working at New Canaan Country and other schools is enjoyable, Bazemore said, is their mission. Schools provide workers with a common goal and New Canaan's staff in particular believes in that mission.
"People here really believe they're improving the world -- improving lives," he said.
The school also offers competitive pay, he said and it tries to prevent people from being compartmentalized.
"Every Wednesday, faculty and staff eat lunch together," he said.
As a result, the average length of service for employees at the school is 18 years, he said. Turnover has been held down to maybe 5 percent, if retirement is included.
David Lewis, president and chief executive officer of Stamford-based human resources consulting firm Operations Inc., said schools probably don't land on these lists very often for a number of reasons, including pay and a lack of interest in being on them.
"I think a lot of the time it comes down to whether the school pays attention to something like this," he said.
Lewis said for some private schools, the issue might be pay. Lewis was speaking generally and did not know what school made our list.
At many elite institutions, while teachers enjoy smaller class sizes and pastoral settings with less pressure than their public school peers, Lewis said, they often are paid less than the public school teachers.
Operations Inc. also made it to our list of top workplaces and Lewis said some of the key elements that makes a good workplace will be the same for many types of businesses.
Good communication with employees is vital, he said. In exit interviews with employees leaving companies, one of the major complaints is that they didn't feel the business provided that.
Providing promotional opportunities to employees is also important, Lewis said. Employees want to see people they work with getting promotions, he said.
Mendoza said he thinks he knows why New Canaan Country School made the list.
Good workplaces are filled with people who are "happy and smiling," he said.