When Shannon Baudo was initially deciding what career path to take, she was drawn to government, which she believed would be a way for her to create change and make a difference.
She didn’t end up working in that field, but Baudo instead was able to do all the things she envisioned in another sector: education.
Baudo, 44, is the Head of School at Allendale Columbia School, an independent, co-ed school in Rochester for students in Little School (ages 18–36 months) through grade 12.
She was named to the role in October of 2021, becoming the first woman to hold the post.
Baudo — a 2023 RBJ Women of Excellence Honoree — says her professional experience has helped her develop qualities that have served her well. Among those is her ability to listen before acting.
“As a leader, you have to be a good listener,” Baudo says. “You have to figure out the why before you enact any change.”
Baudo grew up in Oswego with her mom, dad and two sisters. Her mother was a high school teacher for 32 years and her father was an electrician. He was also a city councilor for 20 years and his role in local government intrigued Baudo.
She went to Hamilton College where she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in government in 2000, with a goal of working in politics. After a semester in Washington D.C., however, she decided it was not something she wanted to pursue.
A coaching position at Stevens Institute of Technology sparked her interest in education. An avid athlete herself, Baudo was head lacrosse coach and assistant soccer coach at the New Jersey-based school.
Baudo would next gain 18 years of work experience at independent schools, including enrollment and admission roles at The Frederick Gunn and Canterbury schools in Connecticut.
She came to Allendale Colombia in 2015 and has served as a key member of the leadership team, including holding roles as assistant head of school and director of enrollment and financial aid, where she led the school’s admissions efforts and the charge to increase enrollment.
Founded in 1890, Allendale Columbia has an enrollment of some 350 students.
Baudo enjoys being a part of a school community that focuses on improving the overall experiences of its students.
Her workdays vary, but she often begins her day greeting younger students as they are being dropped off in the morning.
Spending time with the students is among her favorite parts of the day.
There is also time dedicated to meeting with the school’s stakeholders — including committee meetings with the board, discussions around curriculum with the leadership team and visits to alumni to share the school’s strategic priorities.
Among the biggest challenges is spreading the word about the varied opportunities independent schools can offer.
In the spring, for example, middle- and upper-school students get to take a deep dive into a topic of their choice, from hiking to Italian cooking.
Additionally, sixth grade students can choose from classes that cover topics not normally found at that level in traditional schools, such as the stock market and computer coding.
Such opportunities help to build confidence and encourage growth, Baudo says.
“I love it when I talk to the kids and they tell me they love school again,” she says, noting that many feel fulfilled and accepted at Allendale Columbia. “That’s what you want school to be.”
With a range of opportunities, independent schools such as Allendale Columbia can offer students a different learning experience than what may be available in a public-school setting, she explains.
The school welcomes students from 46 zip codes and 26 school districts, creating a diverse mix of kids in terms of race, ethnicity and socioeconomic standing. The largest concentration of students comes from Pittsford and the city of Rochester.
While many people think the tuition-based model is exclusively for wealthy families, that is not the case, Baudo says, noting the school provides some $3 million annually in scholarships.
Baudo enjoys being a collaborative leader and believes in surrounding herself with colleagues who have different experiences and expertise, noting such diversity creates a better work environment.
As a leader, Baudo knows she will not be able to make everyone happy or, at times, get everyone to agree, but she believes it is important to remain true to the mission of the institution.
Moving forward, Baudo plans to continue to seek out and secure funding for the school, which relies largely on grants and gifts.
Another focus is on creating additional personalized learning opportunities for students, adding that giving students greater autonomy and choice can help them overall.
“We are looking at opportunities for students that they can’t get elsewhere, which can help them better prepare for the future,” she says.
Ann Balderston, board chair at Allendale Columbia said what sets Baudo apart is her exceptional ability to lead through challenging times.
Balderston explained that Baudo stepped up during one of the most pivotal moments in the school’s history, when it was faced with a potential merger that could have fundamentally altered its identity and core values.
“Despite the uncertainty and complexity of the situation, Shannon navigated the process with remarkable poise and transparency, earning the trust and support of the board of trustees and the entire (Allendale Columbia) community,” Balderston says. “Her upbeat personality, humble nature and authentic leadership style are undeniable assets that greatly contribute to her effectiveness as a leader.”
Tim Fish, chief innovation officer for the National Association of Independent Schools, describes Baudo as a dynamic and passionate leader, who has been instrumental in guiding Allendale Columbia into the future.
Fish noted Allendale Columbia joined forces with the national organization last year to tackle a major strategic design process.
Having Baudo lead the charge was a natural fit, he says, noting he was impressed with Baudo’s vision, commitment and drive, especially since she was new to her current role.
“Shannon’s leadership is a model (for) schools all over the country,” Fish says.
[email protected] / (585) 653-4021
Name: Shannon Baudo
Title: Head of School, Allendale Columbia
Education: Bachelor of Arts in Government from Hamilton College, 2000
Family: Husband Chris, 12-year-old twins, Connie and Henry
Hobbies: running, reading, walking the family dog, Nellie
Quote: As a leader, you have to be a good listener. You have to figure out the why before you enact any change.