Home > PUM One on One: Shady Side Academy New President Bart Griffith Jr. 93

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PUM One on One: Shady Side Academy New President Bart Griffith Jr. ‘93

A Leader Committed to Unleashing the Potential for Innovative Teaching and Learning at SSA

Inspiring Academic Growth, Diversity & Inclusion Matter & Having the “Heart” to Lead 


 Alumnus Bartley Griffith Jr. '93 began his tenure as Shady Side Academy’s new president on July 1, 2019. Prior to SSA, Mr. Griffith spent four years as the assistant head of Gilman School, an independent K-12 day school for boys in Baltimore.






PUM: Describe what it feels like to be coming back into Shady Side Academy as the President and as an alumnus and long-term member of the Academy's Board of Visitors. You are a native of the Pittsburgh area, having grown up in Squirrel Hill and Fox Chapel, and attended Shady Side Academy for grades 6-12, graduating in 1993. Are you excited to be home?  


Mr. Griffith Jr.: I am very excited to be home – both in Pittsburgh and at Shady Side – and to help steer my alma mater into what we all believe is a very promising future. It is truly a dream come true for me, and I am both humbled and honored to rejoin the SSA community in this role.


PUM:  The Board of Trustees unanimously approved your appointment, saying, "We were impressed by his thoughtfulness, integrity, track record of innovation, ability to answer tough questions, and, most of all, by his heart."  What "heart" is it going to take from you to lead SSA, a private school respected nationally. Why does, "heart" matter as the leader of SSA?


Mr. Griffith Jr.: To me, having “heart” means being empowered with the capacity to demonstrate love and compassion, two critical qualities for any teacher or school leader. Love and compassion are essential to learning and have been central to all of the transformative educational experiences in my own life.


PUM:  You have an opportunity to help steer your alma mater into its promising future, during your first year as President what will be your main focus?


Mr. Griffith Jr.: I am first looking forward to reacquainting myself with Shady Side. I want to spend time getting to know students, faculty, and parents and learning more about why people love this school and what they see as its greatest opportunities for the future. In the end, it’s going to be about focusing on the connections in the community that provide a sense of purpose, the friendships and relationships that inspire growth and make it all worthwhile.


PUM:  Prior to coming to SSA, you served as the assistant head of Gilman School, an independent K-12 day school enrolling 1,000 boys in Baltimore, Md., since 2015. What opportunities from your previous experiences working in academia will help you as the new President of SSA?


Mr. Griffith Jr.: I have had the opportunity to participate and contribute to almost every area of school life at a number of nationally leading K-12 institutions, including teaching and coaching, strategic planning, institutional advancement, board engagement, enrollment and financial aid, program innovation, professional development, recruitment and hiring, and global experience. All of this has prepared me for the role at SSA and the diverse challenges ahead.






(Pictured: SSA middle school students on parents night. Click images to enlarge.)




 PUM:  The Academy enrolls more than 1,000 students and employs nearly 300 faculty and staff members across four campuses in the Pittsburgh area, what makes Shady Side Academy unique and exceptional from your vantage point and are there plans to grow the enrollment and staff? 


Mr. Griffith Jr.: At over 1,000 students, Shady Side is unique as one of the largest and most diverse independent, nonsectarian schools in the entire Mid-Atlantic. Our size affords us a breadth of program that exceeds most of our local peers’ schools, while at the same time we still remain a close, relational community where teachers know, love, and challenge students. We are unquestionably strong academically by every measure, and we stand out as a learning community dedicated to teaching students’ ethical social action and responsible civic leadership.


PUM: Shady Side's alumni network includes 7,000 individuals around the world thriving in a wide array of professions – including a Nobel Prize-winning doctor, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, a Tony Award-winning actor, a U.S. Cabinet secretary and a NASA astronaut. Not bad, how do you continue to work with your team to build on the solid reputation of SSA?


Mr. Griffith Jr.: It is about enrolling a diverse and talented student body of high character and remaining committed to two vital questions as a community: What do we care about beyond ourselves? And what do we plan to do about it? We will also continue to cultivate our strong and engaged alumni network, which supports the school and serves as an excellent resource for current students.   

(Pictured: Mcllroy Center for Science and Innovation. Click image to enlarge)





PUM: When it comes to innovation, technology, and STEM related programs how will you continue to develop these areas at SSA? Also, what about students interested in attending SSA from abroad will there be growth in these areas?


Mr. Griffith Jr.: Purposeful innovation begins when you know you serve, the reasons why you exist. Once a school establishes such clarity, they pilot programs and reimagine learning spaces. As part of our last strategic plan, we committed to improving our STEM programs and facilities – strengthening our PK-12 science and technology curricula, renovating our Junior School and Middle School science spaces, and building the McIlroy Center for Science and Innovation and the Glimcher Tech & Design Hub, one of the largest secondary fabrication spaces in Western Pennsylvania, at the Senior School. These transformative new facilities are unleashing the potential for innovative teaching and learning at SSA now and in the future. 


We continue to recruit students from all corners of the globe. Our seven-day boarding program offers us the opportunity to compose a student mosaic complete with boys and girls from all around the region, country, and world. We currently have students from nine countries and 13 different states. To enroll in Shady Side is truly to get out of your own neighborhood! 


(Pictured: Mr. Griffith at the SSA African American Parents Picnic held August 25, 2019) 

PUM: What are your thoughts about creating a diverse and inclusive community at SSA?   Shady Side Academy currently has a diverse community of students and adults who share different cultural values and perspectives, in your role as President how do you build upon this community and emphasis these goals? Also, there is an ongoing discussion nationwide surrounding the fact that it is difficult to find teachers of color, and good teachers, how do you find the best qualified teachers?


Mr. Griffith Jr.: These are all big and important questions. An ethical education is an equitable one — and an equitable schoolhouse is one in which a student’s outcomes and opportunities cannot be predicted by any cultural or socioeconomic identifier. And we know that the deepest learning for people of all ages occurs in diverse environments, ones in which assumptions get challenged, questions get raised that lead us to creative tensions and new products and discoveries.


(Pictured: Mr. Griffith with SSA student Rainier Sky Beckham.)


We strive to hire a diverse, talented faculty through (1) year-round sourcing and cultivation of candidates; (2) a selection process that effectively evaluates a potential hire’s capacity to move the school forward in pursuit of expressed goals; and (3) a mission that inspires candidates to see themselves contributing to some broader and urgent purpose, something larger than themselves.


And we give ourselves the best shot at recruiting teachers and administrators of color by promoting a culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion, a community in which educators of all cultural backgrounds can see themselves as members – not simply as employees. Casting a broader net, mitigating bias in the selection process, and offering mentorship and support for teachers of color are also necessary steps in our efforts to recruit and retain a diverse faculty. We have significant progress to make in this area, but we are committed to improvement and to securing a faculty that is as diverse as our student body, 37% of which currently identifies as students of color.


PUM: During your time at Shady Side, you were the varsity football captain, what are your thoughts about growing the football team as well as the other sports programs at the school?


Mr. Griffith Jr.: I will support all athletics at Shady Side by securing the necessary human and financial resources necessary to support transformative learning experiences for our coaches and student-athletes.  Athletics is a unique opportunity for young people to develop relationships, leadership skills, and a commitment to a cause that is much larger than themselves. I draw on my own athletic experiences a SSA almost every single day in my work as President.


 (Pictured: Mr. Griffith catching up with members of the SSA middle school football players with his doggie Roland.)


















PUM: At the end of the day, you are a parent, and now as the President of one of the most respected schools nationwide, what are your hopes and dreams for the coming years?


Mr. Griffith Jr.: I am hopeful that Shady Side can continue to grow as a place of inclusion, innovation, and social impact—that we will continue to deepen our bonds as a learning community and secure the resources necessary to ensure SSA remains strong for generations to come.  It is a journey that began in 1883, and now is the time for us to make this generation’s contribution. All of us at Shady Side are poised and ready to leave the school in a better place than we found it.

 Check out Mr. Griffith Jr. in the video that was sent to the SSA community when he arrived in July:  https://youtu.be/0qr8ca5_8jM



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