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North Hills Monthly

Merger of Shady Side Academy and Fox Chapel Country Day School to Benefit Students, Schools

Dec 01, 2016 07:39AM ● By Vanessa Orr

Fox Chapel Country Day School

In 2017, Shady Side Academy (SSA) and Fox Chapel Country Day School (FCCDS) will be merging, resulting in FCCDS becoming Shady Side’s second PreK-5 campus in addition to its Junior School campus in Point Breeze. According to school leaders, it is the perfect time for this merger, which has been discussed off and on for more than 30 years.

“There have been periodic discussions about joining forces, but it never worked out for various reasons,” explained Tom Cangiano, president, Shady Side Academy. “We revisited the subject a couple of years ago and realized that while both schools were strong, we could become even stronger together. 

“There is quite a bit of overlap in our communities, with many of Country Day’s students going on to our middle school, and there are close cultural ties between the two schools,” he continued, adding that both schools’ campuses are also almost contiguous. “We mutually decided that it was a good idea to move forward.”

When the merger is completed, it will create a unified school community of more than 1,000 students across four campuses. It will also enable families in the northern suburbs, who found the Point Breeze campus to be too far away, to enroll their children in Shady Side Academy at a much earlier age.

By joining forces, FCCDS will have access to a larger population from which to draw students, and will also have the name and marketing strength of Shady Side Academy behind its enrollment efforts. Students from FCCDS who previously had to apply and take a placement test for admission to Shady Side’s Middle School will now automatically be enrolled.

“It is a pretty unique opportunity for Country Day to become part of an educational organization that is more known in the community and that does an equally great job of educating students,” said Tom Karet, board president, FCCDS, whose children have attended both schools. “While we have a reputation as the best PreK-5 school in Fox Chapel, an affiliation with Shady Side gets us out into the North Hills and Oakmont—to places that we’re not as well known.”

This affiliation will also enable FCCDS teachers to collaborate with colleagues, as well as allow students access to more facilities. 

“Since FCCDS has one class in each grade, our teachers have limited opportunities to collaborate with teachers in the same areas. They now will have colleagues, not only at the Junior School, but also at the Middle and Senior Schools, with whom to develop the best resources for children’s learning,” said Sharon Smith, head of school, FCCDS. “Country Day students and teachers will also be afforded opportunities to share in the tremendous facilities of the Shady Side Academy campus, including the center for performing arts and athletic facilities.”

Initially, the curriculum will stay the same at both schools, though some changes are expected to occur over time. “Our strategy is to keep the Country Day program, curriculum, culture and identity intact,” said Cangiano, “though we expect to see an organic, evolutionary change over the next three to five years as we match up on fundamentals and colleagues work to harmonize their programs down the road.”   

One of the most important aspects of the merger was to make sure that the feel of Country Day didn’t change as it became part of a larger school. “We have had extensive conversations to make sure that our warm and nurturing atmosphere remains, as well as the incredible music and art program which is one of the best in the city for kids this age,” said Karet. “We have gone to great lengths to preserve all of those things that parents and students love about Country Day.”

FCCDS will also continue to take advantage of its location on 17 wooded acres to provide an outdoor classroom where students spend time playing, exploring and learning. “We are a small school in the woods, which gives children a lot of opportunities to be outdoors developing tools of confidence, as well as social and academic skills,” said Smith. “We truly believe that childhood is a journey and not a race, and we are committed to maintaining that culture at our school.”

Parents who have students at FCCDS and at Shady Side Academy are excited about the merger, seeing it as a win-win situation.

“I feel really positive about it,” said Kelley Engh, who has daughters in first and fifth grade at FCCDS and a son in sixth grade at Shady Side. “At first I wasn’t sure, because I love the things about Country Day that make it unique, like the pastoral landscape, and the fact that they take the kids outside and incorporate nature into the curriculum. I also like that they have a small teacher-to-student ratio, and the kids all know each other.

“Knowing that those things won’t change, but that we’ll have more resources, like additional computers and smart boards, and that we’ll have more financial resources for maintenance and to expand programs, is a big benefit,” she added.

Anne Johnson currently has two sons and a daughter at FCCDS and a son who graduated FCCDS and moved on to Shady Side Middle School. “Country Day has always been a feeder school to Shady Side, and this will make the transition even smoother,” said Johnson. “Financially, it will enable Country Day to keep its presence in the community and to continue to maintain its overall uniqueness.

“Both of these schools are strong assets in the community,” she added. “I think it will be a great thing.”

Families interested in learning more about FCCDS are encouraged to attend the school’s Open House on Thursday, Dec. 8 at 9:30 a.m.

To RSVP or for more information, visit or call 412-963-8644.