About Us
Our Mission

A Brief History

The Beginnings of Shady Hill

In 1915, The Cooperative Open Air School opened at 16 Quincy Street in Cambridge, on the back porch of a home owned by Ernest and Agnes Hocking. The school was started by Harvard-affiliated parents whose children had attended the Agassiz School, a public school in Cambridge that was slated for demolition. The parents, joined by two or three "professional" teachers, instructed the children in arithmetic, history, geography, poetry, music, French, biology, carpentry and drawing. At the time it was the only independent, coeducational elementary school in the area.

By 1917, the enrollment had grown too large for the back porch; the school purchased a portion of the Charles Eliot Norton estate at the corner of Scott and Holden Streets in Cambridge. In this location—Shady Hill Square—the enrollment grew even further. In 1924, the parents purchased the school's present location on Coolidge Hill in Cambridge. The Cooperative Open Air School officially became Shady Hill School in 1925.

The Founders

The school's progressive roots came from the founding families' enthusiasm for the writings of John Dewey and other leading educators of the time. The founders were committed to the use of original source materials, a "spirit of simplicity and devotion to learning," and the idea of freedom coupled with responsibility. The school's progressive teaching philosophy has attracted a succession of master-teachers to its faculty and generations of devoted parents to its constituency.

In 1921, Katharine Taylor was hired to be the school's first Director, a position she held for 28 years. She brought the concept of Central Subject, a method of focusing each grade's areas of study on a people, a place or a time. To this day, Central Subject continues to be the core of Shady Hill's curriculum. In 1928 she established the Teacher Training Course (TTC), a graduate-level teacher preparation program, which initially trained teachers for employment at Shady Hill. The program has now trained more than 1,500 teachers, who teach in and lead schools across the United States and in countries around the world.

The Heads of School

Since Katharine Taylor's retirement in 1948, the school has been led by Edward Yeomans (1949-1962), Joseph C. Segar (1963-1989), Jonathan Slater (1989-1994), Bruce Shaw (1994-2010), and Mark J. Stanek (2010 to the present) along with Mary C. Eliot, who served as Acting Director and also as the school's Associate Director for many years. These remarkable leaders have each brought innovation to the school, while preserving Shady Hill's core ideals.

Continuing the Traditions

Shady Hill's history and traditions continue to play important roles at the school. Generations of our students have participated in fourth grade Olympic Games, danced at the may pole in the spring, created memory maps in seventh grade, played Ghost, and "learned how to learn" from our talented faculty.

Nearly 100 years after its founding, Shady Hill still endeavors to "keep children alive to open mindedness and a love of learning, to provide life with all possible richness and fullness, and to secure freedom with self-control."
617.520.5260        178 Coolidge Hill    Cambridge MA 02138