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Merger of The Harley School and Allendale Columbia School will take time

Merger of The Harley School and Allendale Columbia School will take time

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The historic merger of two private and independent preparatory schools is taking place to expand opportunities for the 900 students who attend them, the heads of  The Harley School and the Allendale Columbia School said this week.

But many details, including the name of the future school, are yet to be decided. 

Announcements were made Tuesday of the intended merger of the more-than-century-old schools. Mick Gee, Head of School at Allendale Columbia, said the schools’ respective boards of trustees voted on April 25 and Monday to sign a letter of intent to merge, and announcements to their communities were made at the same time on Tuesday. The heads met with members of the media Wednesday morning to talk about the decision. 

Harley Head of School Larry Frye said students will notice little change for the rest of this school year and next year. Students now in 11th and 12th grades will graduate from their individual schools, but there will be more collaboration starting with the coming school year.

Harley Head of School Larry Frye, left, and Allendale Columbia Head of School Mick Gee answer questions about the two school's impending merger. RBJ Photo by Diana Louise Carter
Harley Head of School Larry Frye, left, and Allendale Columbia Head of School Mick Gee answer questions about the two schools’ impending merger. RBJ Photo by Diana Louise Carter

The merger will take place over the course of at least two years, with Harley taking the lead because it’s a larger school—500 students—with more assets. In addition, according to Harley’s announcement, that school will take “operational responsibility” of the merger process starting June 30. Allendale Columbia has 386 students, a number that represents a 30 percent increase over recent years when the school age population dipped, Gee said.

“What we haven’t figured out yet… is what’s going to go where and how,” Frye said.  The joint school will operate at least for some time with two campuses.   Neither campus is set up to take an increase of more than about 50 additional students right now, the heads said. 

Frye said task forces would be set up, with plenty of input from faculty, students, parents, and alumni to consider how to merge special aspects of the schools, such as their unique cultures and traditions, their math programs and others.

Both heads expressed excitement about the prospects of creating what Frye described as a “naturally exemplary school” as a result of the merger. Harley has created programs allowing students to study and work in sustainability and hospices, while Allendale has three special interest centers focusing on entrepreneurship, global engagement and STEM, design and innovation.

Despite those differences the schools’ approaches to education math, science, foreign languages, and the arts are quite similar, the heads agreed. harley-logo

“Harley and Allendale Columbia are already intertwined communities, and we enter into this opportunity with a deep mutual respect and appreciation for the extraordinary history, traditions, and programs of each school,” Frye said. “Combining the distinctive strengths of our storied institutions will create a truly extraordinary school.”

The schools lie a little more than a half a mile apart, with Harley on Clover Street in Brighton and Allendale Columbia on Allen’s Creek Road in Pittsford. Both schools serve students in nursery school through 12th grades, drawn from a wide area, including at least 14 countries and 50 zip codes. 

Currently, as they have for nearly 50 years, the schools field athletic teams together, which Frye said has led some outsiders to think the schools already have merged. They also have a combined middle school competitive math team, a shared homecoming and proms, and additional social events in common. A shuttle runs between them for sports. 

allendale-columbia-logo“Given the promise of combining the strengths of Allendale Columbia with those of The Harley School, we expect more families will seize the opportunity for an independent education,” Gee said. “We are currently focused on this affiliation—beyond that comes growth and continued strength, all harnessed for our students’ success.”

Employment numbers going forward will be dictated by enrollment, the schools’ joint announcement said. Harley now employs 120 staff and Allendale Columbia employs 98. 

The schools’ history began in 1890 when the precursor to the all-girls Columbia School was formed. Harley followed in 1917, and the all-boys Allendale was created in 1926. The Great Depression led Columbia and Allendale to merge for three years in the 1930s, but they separated for several decades after that. A fire that consumed the Allendale campus in 1966 eventually led to another merger and Columbia joined the Allendale students on the Pittsford campus in 1972. That fall, Harley and Allendale Columbia began fielding sports teams together.

Scott Frame, president of the Harley board of trustees, said conversations about merging the two schools have gone on for decades. Frye and Gee agreed that conversations have come up for many years, but said the decision to merge was driven by the boards of trustees without the typical community-wide discussion. Frye said in a video shared with alumni and other members of the Harley community, that a merger didn’t come up two years ago when he was a candidate for the job he holds now. Reaction to the announcement has been mostly positive, school leaders said, included a faculty member who dropped by Frye’s office Tuesday with a one-word exclamation: “gobsmacked.” 

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