Lifelong Catholic and charter school leader Jeff Hilger has been appointed Founding Director

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles Department of Catholic Schools announced that St. John Paul II STEM Academy at Bellarmine-Jefferson is slated to open for the 2019-2020 academic year at the site of the former Bellarmine-Jefferson High School Burbank. 

The Department of Catholic Schools also announced that Mr. Jeff Hilger has been appointed as Founding Director of the new high school.

St. John Paul II STEM Academy will open its doors with a freshmen class in August 2019.

The mission of St. John Paul II STEM Academy is to form ethical, compassionate, critical thinking young men and women for college and careers in a myriad of fields, known and unknown, with opportunities of concentration and application in media arts and trade technologies. 

The academy will initially serve 60 young women and men per year — beginning with one freshman class and growing year-by-year, ultimately intending to serve 400 students total when maximum enrollment is reached.

“At the Department of Catholic Schools, we have a vision of growth that is based on the demographic reality of an increasing Catholic population in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles,” said Dr. Kevin Baxter, senior director and superintendent of Catholic Schools. “We are excited about the launching of St. John Paul II STEM Academy at Bellarmine-Jefferson for many reasons and it is a great indicator that our vision is one of building and opening and not closure and consolidation. We have great confidence in Jeff Hilger and the team at the school to make the dream of a thriving Catholic high school in Burbank a reality.”

Upon accepting the position, Hilger said, “I am incredibly excited and humbled to be selected to be the Founding Director of St. John Paul II STEM Academy. I believe that my entire life’s work has prepared me well for the challenge of opening a new Catholic high school STEM Academy.”

Hilger is a lifelong Catholic and parishioner of St. Paul the Apostle Parish. For the past 15 years, he has launched and managed public charter schools. He has been directly responsible for the start-up of four charter schools, including the development and 2013 opening of two New Opportunities high schools aimed at serving adults, primarily inside the LA County jails, but also throughout LA County for former inmates and other disenfranchised students.

Arming students for a better future

The new school could not have chosen a better namesake for its goal to provide students with top-tier STEM education with a focus on the Catholic faith. 

“The suggestion of St. John Paul II was from Archbishop [Jose] Gomez,” Baxter said. “His approach was that he’s a saint, a pope who visited Los Angeles (in 1987), he visited the United States multiple times and we don’t have a school named after him yet [in the diocese].”

Baxter added, “One of the things we looked into is some of his work around science and STEM subjects, and we realized he had a great connection and a great passion for science.”

St. John Paul II STEM Academy will provide STEM education, through the lens of our Catholic faith, empowering students to be innovative, creative, and systematic problem solvers. The educational model fosters design-thinking and collaboration in real world contexts of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. 

The novel education model serving as the basis of St. John Paul II STEM Academy will feature: 

  • daily prayer, regular Masses and religion coursework, students will have opportunities to participate in Campus Ministry activities, including retreats and service
  • students will be in gender-specific STEM classes with co-educational opportunities in all other classes
  • partnerships with the Burbank area media industry for curricular and co-curricular STEM-related projects and extra-curricular activities, as well as, career day, visits/tours to local studios/businesses, possible short-term shadowing/internships at local studios/businesses;
  • college prep coursework will ensure that students will qualify for UC/CSU entrance
  • opportunities to further education and work-readiness through apprenticeships and/or community college coursework for students who choose to enter the workforce.

You can get updates and enrollment information about St. John Paul II STEM Academy at Bellarmine-Jefferson at the Academy's website,

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