Shannon Donnelly, the new principal at Somerset High School, has plans to align the building’s educational system “to a 21st Century model.”
Donnelly said education has changed very little over the past 150 years. With the rapid changes of technology, where information is now instantaneously available to students, the focus is changing to help students utilize the information and content that is available to them.
“That’s something we’ll tackle in this building head-on,” she said. “We’re getting rid of the one size fits all and individualizing each student’s path for learning.”
The point is that education currently is almost 100 percent adult driven, Donnelly explained. The goal at the high school will be to get the students more involved in charting the course for their future.
“We want kids to be able to make decisions,” she said. “We want kids to be problem solvers, innovative thinkers, and that takes a shift in how we do school.”
Some of the changes will be small, some will be larger. Some will be tried immediately, while some will be phased in over time.
“In the next one-to-three years, you’ll see significant changes,” Donnelly said.
It is the hope of the school administration that the progressive nature of this approach leads to a positive atmosphere in the building.
“The building has to be a place kids and staff are excited to come to every single day. That makes everything else we’re asking kids to do more exciting for them,” Donnelly said.
Donnelly got an early start at the principal role, stepping in on an interim basis last February. She has served the past five years as Somerset’s Director of Pupil Services. Prior to coming to Somerset, Donnelly had served as a special education teacher at St. Croix Central for 12 years. She said her goal originally was to work toward becoming an administrator, but the months as an interim principal reminded her why she got into education.
“Probably the biggest draw is being back with kids,” she said.
Donnelly credited former St. Croix Central High School principal Glenn Webb for sparking her interest for going into administration. She said it was after 10 years at Central, when she stepped down as girls basketball coach to have her two sons. She was given opportunities to work on several projects that fanned the flame of her interest.
“I’ve worked under and beside some really great administrators and superintendents. It didn’t take long to see it was something I had a passion to do,” Donnelly said on the decision to go into administration.
In describing herself as a “fairly non-traditional thinker,” Donnelly is bringing in some new ideas to the high school. One idea is a pilot program to have three teachers do “student-centered coaching,” where they will essentially serve as sounding boards for staff members, giving them ideas to help their teaching offerings evolve. Another idea will be a “Fab Lab,” a fabrication lab where students will be provided the opportunity to use new technology.
More instructional classes are going to be added over the summer. By giving students the chance to gain some credits during the summer, it will give them more flexibility in their scheduling. More chances to take online courses will also be made available so students are prepared for this in post-high school education.
Even the advanced placement classes will continue to evolve. An AP physics class will be co-taught by two social studies teachers for 50 students.