St. John Paul II STEM Academy is a new Catholic high school, located in the heart of Burbank. Guided by a vision to provide the best of Catholic education with cutting edge technology and teaching practices, our mission is to form forward-thinking innovators, ready for the real world and committed to serving the common good.

Founding Team


Founding Director
BSFS Georgetown University | MA, JD UCLA

Dr. Jeff Hilger is a graduate of Loyola High School (Los Angeles), Georgetown University and the UCLA Schools of Law and Urban Planning. He was a member of the Teach For America 1992 Corps in Los Angeles and, after teaching for five years and practicing law for five years, became the founding Principal Teacher of Stella Middle Charter Academy and eventually the Chief Executive Officer of Bright Star Schools.

He went on to co-found New Opportunities Organization, which serves adult students (both incarcerated and community-based) at sites throughout Los Angeles. He is also a bilingual (English/Spanish) attorney with multiple areas of practice – including real estate, school law, nonprofit law, estate planning, and general transactional law – as well as a School Systems and Start-Up Specialist who has been responsible for opening 4 charter schools.


Dean of Academic Excellence
BS Notre Dame University

Bridget Higgins is an educator specializing in transformational STEM education, focusing on both the academic and character development potential of STEM learning models. Having received her BS from Notre Dame, she taught interdisciplinary science and math for several years at Montrose School, in Medfield, Massachusetts.

She left the front end of the classroom to attend a two year laureate program at the Università di Santa Croce in Rome, specializing in integral human formation. She moved from Rome to Los Angeles to take the director position at Westfield Residence, a leadership center for college women, before taking on the adventure at St. John Paul II STEM Academy.


Dean of Student Services
BA Franciscan University of Steubenville | MA Providence College

Michael Parks is a veteran classroom teacher, administrator, and program director. He studied the Liberal Arts at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, the Pontifical Gregorian University, and Providence College, earning his Master’s Degree in 2004. He has taught in Catholic schools in Rhode Island, Georgia, and Europe, leading programs in the Great Books, Theology, and the Classics. Before moving to California, he served as the principal of a start-up High School in Central Minnesota.

Michael has worked for many years as a pastoral employee of the Catholic Church, building and managing youth ministries and adult faith formation programs in Georgia, Minnesota, and California. He has served fifteen years in the Armed Forces, including a combat tour to Iraq in 2007-2008. He currently serves as an Engineer Officer in the Army Reserve. 


Leslie DeLeonardis
Tessa Michaels
Colin Brady
Tom Vasella
Manuel de Tezanos Pinto
Robin Miller

Our History

St. John Paul II STEM Academy was created through the initiative of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to continue to offer the best possible options for Catholic schooling in the community of Burbank. It was designed through the response of families and community members as an innovative model that both serves and takes advantage of the great resources available in the area. St. John Paul II STEM Academy is housed in the renovated former campus of Bellarmine-Jefferson High School.

After serving the community for 75 years, Bell-Jeff closed its doors in spring of 2018. We appreciate its service in the formation of so many generations, and are committed to preserving the memory of its many contributions. We proudly maintain the rich historic elements of the building and campus, and are happy to welcome alums to come and visit the alumni room, housed next to St. Eleanor Hall.