New Dartmouth High principal ‘giddy’ to get started at his alma mater

Aug 14, 2022

Dartmouth High School has a new principal this year and despite his only one-year tenure with the school, Ryan Shea is no stranger to the town.

Shea grew up in Dartmouth and credits his public school education for his success as an educator and school administrator. Now he wants to make sure that the town’s current and future students get the same opportunities.

“I’m here today because of my Dartmouth education… this place gave me the life that I have today,” he said. “If you give me four years, I can give you the life that it gave me.”

Shea joined Dartmouth High last year when he was hired as the assistant principal under former principal Ross Thibault. When Thibault was promoted to director of teaching and learning this summer, Shea said he saw an opportunity to rebuild after several difficult Covid years.

Shea quoted national statistics showing that one-in-four students have experienced trauma over the last two and a half years, stunting their emotional growth.

“We know we have students that are suffering,” he said.

With that in mind, Shea said one of his top priorities will be improving mental health among students.

The new administrator has already made news with the announcement of a new cell phone policy designed to separate students from their smartphones during class time in order to create a more comfortable and distraction-free environment.

But despite the major rule change, Shea said he doesn’t want to let the policy define him.

“I don’t want to be the cell phone principal, I want to be the principal that cares about his students,” he said.

Shea explained that research has shown that simply having a cell phone on your desk or in your pocket can be distracting to students' learning, even if they are not actively using them.

“They’re still looking for that buzz,” he said.

He added that the fear of having an embarrassing moment captured by another student’s camera phone makes kids less likely to take chances.

“We want this place to be an environment where people want to come and where they feel they can take risks — they feel they can step out on a limb,” he said. “And if everyone is taking a photo of you taking a risk, that’s harder to take that risk.”

While Shea said the cell phone policy will be an important step to creating a more welcoming environment, he said what really sets Dartmouth High apart is the opportunities it provides for students to find their passions.

“Every high school teaches the same curriculum — we have the [state] standards,” he said. “But what makes Dartmouth High School different is the offerings that we offer our students.”

Among such opportunities, Shea cited the school’s wide range of competitive athletic teams and its 40 different clubs, including media, robotics, and the “world-class” band.

“I don’t believe Dartmouth High School can be a school that is from 7:30 [a.m.] to 2:03 [p.m.],” he said. “You need to do something else. You need another connection in this building.”

Shea said he would love to see 100% of students participating in some kind of extracurricular.

With his goals set and school poised to resume at the end of the month, Shea said he is “giddy” about getting started as the principal of his alma mater.

“For me it’s special, it really is, it’s heartwarming,” he said. “The honor that I get to be in this role has not gone unnoticed.”