Shawsheen Tech Welcomes New Faculty Members, Prepares A Farewell To An Icon

BILLERICA, MA — As the school year begins at Shawsheen Valley Regional Technical High School, faculty and students will be welcoming 13 new staff members including 10 teachers, 2 teacher aides, and a new member of the Dean of Student’s staff.  A number of former teachers retired this spring, creating opportunities for this new cohort of instructors at the Tech.

The bell has officially rung for all teachers and staff and Superintendent/Director Tim Broadrick, welcomed the new members of the teaching staff while he also took note of the hard work required to bring in such a large cohort of new teachers and teacher aides.

“Once again, Principal Dr. Robert Kanellas and his faculty, which Bob has led thoughtfully for so many years, is the real key to Shawsheen Tech students’ success,” said Broadrick.

Shawsheen Tech is a regional Career and Technical Education high school which offers students the opportunity to customize their education by their choice of one of 22 technical shops that they will call home for three years preparing for the workplace through rigorous apprenticeship training.  But, like all other high school students, they will take classes in a wider variety of academic subjects including: math, English, social studies, science, and language arts.  Several of the new hires will be working on the academic side of the equation while several will be joining the vocational and technical faculty.

Incoming freshmen students will begin their language arts studies in their Spanish class with Ali Belkus.   Belkus formerly taught in her hometown of Lawrence, Mass., at both Lawrence High School as well as Central Catholic High School.  Belkus is clear about her career choice.  “I believe in the power of education. I love teaching because, yes, I get to teach the subject matter, but teaching is also an opportunity to help build a person, and I feel it is an honor to teach young people.”

Vanessa Valentin, a resident of Billerica, joins the Shawsheen faculty after teaching for several years at Brighton High School.  Valentin, who will teach biology in the special education department is committed to the education and well-being of adolescents.  Valentin explains, “What motivates me are the daily interactions with students and watching their growth.  I was attracted to Shawsheen in part because of the vocational programs here because the students are being prepared for the real world of work, and that appeals to me.”

A desire to serve the educational needs of Shawsheen students motivates all of the newly hired instructors.   Bryan Ibbitson, a resident of Peabody, joins the faculty as a history teacher.   Ibbitson formerly taught at Lawrence High School, and in addition to his new duties in the classroom, he joins the athletic staff on the gridiron as the freshmen football coach. “I like anything that helps young people, it’s the same thing, to give them the power to think on their own and make their own decisions. It’s great to watch this process,” he said.

Two Shawsheen Tech graduates, Robert McIsaac and Kim Barriss, return to their alma mater as new teachers. McIsaac joins the social science faculty as a first-year history instructor after working for two years in the Office of Dean at Shawsheen Tech.   McIsaac grew up in Wilmington, attended Shawsheen, and graduated in 2008.  Kim Barriss graduated from Shawsheen in 2012 and returns to teach biology.  Barriss, who lives in North Reading, previously taught in Northampton, Mass, points to the strong community culture at Shawsheen Tech as the reason she joined the faculty. “After teaching elsewhere for a few years, I came to appreciate how different the culture is at Shawsheen.  I really like the community aspect of this school, and I also like the fact that the students have the option to go to college or pursue their vocation after high school.”

Shawn Andersen will be working with the Dean of Students in the position formerly held by McIsaac.  Andersen, a resident of Tewksbury, brings more than 20 years of full-time coaching (football and basketball), experience along with experience as a teaching assistant at Arlington High School.  His work with young people makes him a strong addition to the staff.

An appreciation for the strong community culture at Shawsheen is what motivated Sara Belson, a Tewksbury resident, to apply for a full-time position in the English Department after working as a long-term substitute teacher last year.  Belson explains, “It really struck me how welcoming and family like the culture is here.  The students are excited because they have the opportunity to explore something that they are passionate about and therefore they are more engaged with their academics even if it’s not their favorite subject.  This is what excites me about teaching here.”

All of the new hires mentioned above are assigned to an academic department and working under the supervision of Andrea Gobbi, Director of Academic Programs.  The other new instructors will work under the supervision of David Norkiewicz, Director of Vocational and Technical Programs.  Tina Collins and Tanya Baron will now form the backbone of the Electronics / Robotics Shop faculty, and they will be assisted in part by Alexis Clement who joins the staff as a teaching assistant in the pre-engineering program aka Project Lead the Way.

Collins, a resident of North Andover, made the transition from the world of engineering in private industry to teaching the electronics shop at Shawsheen Tech.  Collins said, “The opportunity to stay in my technical field and teach is phenomenal. I’m excited because there is a big opportunity in electronics.  We can show students things about what they see around them every day, such as smart phones, smart homes and self-driving cars.  It’s all electronics and it’s a huge thing.”

Baron, who lives in Medford, joins Collins in the Electronics/Robotics shop as a new technical instructor.   Baron’s roots are in vocational education.  “I was a vocational student and got my foundation in electronics in high school.  I went into industry and a former teacher encouraged me to consider teaching,” Baron explains.  She taught at several technical high schools then including for 16 years at Waltham High School.  As to why she came to Shawsheen, Baron says, “I was contacted by someone on the staff about this opening and I was impressed by the facilities and the culture at Shawsheen Tech.  People here know what vocational and technical education is all about.  This is what I wanted.”

The advanced manufacturing program at Shawsheen has been enhanced by the implementation of a pre-engineering curriculum known as Project Lead the Way (PLTW). This curriculum, first introduced in the Fall of 2016, is being expanded and supported by a new teaching assistant to work with the current PLTW faculty.  Alexis Clement has been hired as a teaching assistant to teach Principles of Engineering.  Clement has more than 20 years of experience in engineering in private industry and worked for several years as an engineer at Raytheon.  Clement lives in Burlington  and got her first taste of teaching as a substitute teacher last year at Shawsheen.  Looking to shift to part time, Clement sees the opportunity to teach at Shawsheen Tech as a teaching assistant as a great way to introduce engineering and other STEM curriculum to students. “I particularly appreciate the chance to mentor young women going into STEM professions.  The Shawsheen program creates a great base for students and the Project Lead the Way curriculum strengthens that base,” she said.

New vocational and technical instructors include Mary Carroll, Dennis Ford and Stephanie DiCecca, who will be teaching in the Business Technology, Plumbing and Metal Fabrication/Welding shops respectively.  Carroll grew up in Burlington, graduated from Burlington High School, and earned her degree in business at UMass Lowell.  Carroll has worked in business administration for several years and now hopes to give back through her teaching.  She explains, “It’s time for me to teach young people what I’ve learned in business.  When I think about students in high school, this age group, it is so critical to have positive adult relationships and I want to be a part of that as a mentor and teacher who sees them and hears them.”

Ford joins the Construction Program as an instructor in the Plumbing shop.  He is a graduate of Worcester Tech’s plumbing program and worked for 14 years in the Plumbers union.  He enjoyed his time in the trades, but says that while working as a plumber he noticed that several of his colleagues who were plumbing instructors really loved their work.  “I was interested in teaching and in 2013 I had an opportunity to work full-time as a plumbing teacher for Job Corps in Grafton, Mass., he said. When the opportunity to teach at Shawsheen came up he took full advantage of it.  Stephanie DiCecca has been working as a teacher aide in the Welding shop for the past year and a retirement from that shop gave her the opportunity to apply for and secure as full-time position in Metal Fabrication.

Superintendent/Director Tim Broadrick acknowledged the hard work of Dr. Kanellas, currently the Principal and someone who has made Shawsheen his life.  Dr. Kanellas started his career in 1972  as an English teacher, and then moved on to serve as Chair of the English Department, Director of Academic Programs and now Principal.  Dr. Kanellas, it is safe to say bleeds Shawsheen purple and has been an iconic figure in the life of the School since he arrived.  This will be Dr. Kanellas’ last Fall, and last round of hiring new teachers as he will retire in December this year.

Kanellas reflected on his career and legacy.

“I imagine most people approach retirement with mixed emotions.  I’m no exception.  Leaving Cook Street for the final time will certainly be a sad occasion for me in December, but knowing that I’ve helped to build and leave behind an extraordinary faculty—including and especially our most recent recruits—gives me a strong sense of achievement and legacy,” said Kanellas.

Shawsheen Tech-New Teacher Photo
Back Row (L to R): Bryan Ibbitson, Robert McIsaac, Dennis Ford, Mary Carroll, Tina Collins, Sara Belson; Front Row (L to R): Ali Belkus, Alexis Clement, Vanessa Valentin, Tanya Baron, Kim Barriss, Stephanie DiCecca

(NOTE: The above press release is from the Shawsheen Tech.)

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