Ellen Moceri is living up to a promise she made to her husband 21 years ago when the couple lived in St. Louis.
Moceri, the head of Ransom Everglades School in Coconut Grove, had turned 50 and had held leadership positions for 25 years at John Burroughs School in St. Louis. She was on the way to becoming the head of the upper school at the American School of The Hague and Horace Mann School in the Bronx.
Moceri’s husband, Lawrence, an English department chairman in the suburban public schools of St. Louis, took early retirement. Lawrence agreed to follow his wife to New York under one stipulation: She must retire at 70 and agree to move back to their beloved St. Louis.
That journey took a bit longer. Moceri eventually landed at Ransom Everglades in Coconut Grove and has served as its head of school for 13 years. She will retire at the end of this school year; Stephanie (Penny) Townsend, head of school at the Pennington School in New Jersey, will take over on July 1.
“I’ll be 71. I got another year out of him,” Moceri said, chuckling. “I have no idea what retirement means because I am a highly energetic person and will be as helpful as I can for as long as I can.”
Indeed, Moceri knows busy. Under her leadership Ransom has renovated the middle school, built a new Aquatic Center at the upper school and has boosted its endowment from $8 million to more than $25 million. Enrollment has grown by 200 students and 19 percent of its graduates, or about one in five, are accepted into Ivy League colleges.
“We’ve created a whole new approach to college counseling. Every one of my college counselors has had experience on the admission committee of a college,” Moceri said.
“I’d like to have said that I reinvigorated the mission of the school,” said Moceri, who has worked as an educator in independent schools for 48 years. “We were founded by Paul Ransom and he felt our graduates should have a sense of service. They are in the world not for what they can get out of it but what they can put in to it. My philosophy mirrored his. Private schools should have the same priorities. We have resources; we should share them. This wasn’t talked about as much before I got here.”
Founded in 1903, Ransom has 1,064 students split between its middle and upper school Coconut Grove campuses. Tuition is $30,000 per year but the school offers need-based financial aid. “We’ve tripled our financial aid; the average grant is $23,000,” Moceri said.
Ransom’s run under Moceri hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Stuart Gulley, president of Woodward Academy in Atlanta, chaired a committee overseeing Ransom’s accreditation review a few years ago. “Ransom enjoys a national, if not an international, reputation. The school is a standard-bearer in college prep nationally and regarded for its extracurricular approach and strength in athletics and the arts and the quality of its facilities. Ellen is largely responsible both for what Ransom Everglades looks like today as well as for its national reputation. She’s a passionate advocate for college prep education.”
Gulley also is a strong supporter of Townsend.
“My first thought was, ‘That was an inspired choice.’ What she has done at Pennington is outstanding and she’s the appropriate person to succeed in the footsteps Ellen is leaving behind,” he said.