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Clayton Child Center

What sets this child-care center apart from others in the St. Louis area are its low staff-to-children ratios, low staff turnover and highly educated workforce. Set in a completely renovated stone building that once housed the Museum of Science and Natural History in Oak Knoll Park, Clayton Child Center has a ratio of one staff member for every three children in its infant-and-toddler program, which provides care to 96 children ages 6 weeks to 2-and-a-half years. Older children, ages 2-and-a-half to 5, attend preschool at 7501 Maryland Ave., and school-age children through eighth grade attend the Clayton Academy, also on Maryland. The nonprofit child-care center was founded two decades ago by executive director Barbara Geno with help from a consortium of businesses, corporations and banks. It is accredited by state and national organizations, including the highly selective National Association for the Education of Young Children. It is also the only infant/toddler program in the state that is accredited as a school by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States. Each newly hired teacher is paired with a mentor, and the staff is encouraged to complete at least 15-20 hours of additional training each year. Every Clayton Child Center teacher must possess an associate's degree or be working toward completing one, and more than a dozen teachers have bachelor's or master's degrees. Geno says the key to keeping quality staff is a higher pay scale -- most starting salaries are in the 20s, depending on education and experience -- and a generous package of fringe benefits, including 85 percent of major-medical coverage and a host of paid holidays. The only downside is the price: Parents pay a $300 annual registration fee, and full-time care for an infant or toddler is currently $1,380 a month. Part-time care costs $68 a day.

 
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