It has been awhile since I was in the principal’s office. Fortunately, Shawn Carey, the new principal at Dos Pueblos High School, is of the new guard — she’s warm and approachable, even though she’s been up since 4:50 a.m. with her newborn.
Counting students, faculty and staff, the school at 7266 Alameda Ave. has 2,500 people on campus with this freshman principal confidently at the helm.
Carey comes from a family of educators, including both of her parents and a sister, who work as a teacher, school administrator and guidance counselor, respectively. Out of the gate, she was fairly determined to pursue anything but teaching, but Carey says she was hooked once she began working in the public school system.
During her late teens and early 20s, Carey spent a fair amount of time in Latin America, including Argentina, Peru, Ecuador and Chile. While there, she noted that private education was the default for anyone with even middle income. She said she also regarded the public schooling offered in those countries as superior to much of what is available in the United States. When deciding to put her focus on the U.S. public sector, Carey said she had her moment of questioning her priorities.
“What would I march on Washington over?” she asked. “My answer was leveling the playing field through quality public education.”
Since 2008, Carey served as an assistant principal at Dos Pueblos, where she oversaw curriculum, instruction and assessment, athletics, student discipline and safety, and coordination of staff development, teaching and learning.
She has a bachelor’s degree in Latin American studies from the University of Virginia and a master’s degree in education from UCSB. Much like Williamsburg, Va., where she was raised, Carey said Santa Barbara offers the small-town feel she values.
Her instructional experience includes 10 years as a Dos Pueblos teacher of advanced placement world history, modern world history, international baccalaureate theory of knowledge, EXCEL and Spanish.
Carey’s transition to administrator from teacher came with some internal debate. Wanting to remedy the issues of inequality in public education, she realized she may be able to bring about more positive change from the top instead of from the trenches.
When asked how high school life has changed in recent years, Carey said that not only has it become incredibly competitive academically, but that students must be deliberate and strategic in their high school career to ensure entry to college.
“It’s not enough to earn a high school diploma anymore,” she said. “Both universities and most two-year community colleges have raised their entrance expectations and demanded we better prepare our students.”
Additionally, as a result of the access to information via the Internet, teachers’ roles have dramatically changed in the past decade.
“Teachers used to provide most of the information, but now we need them to function more as guides on how to analyze, and apply the sea of available data,” Carey said. “They help students discern if information is trustworthy and how to problem solve, which is harder and a more highly-skilled job.”
As principal, Carey has a litany of responsibilities. In addition to student curriculum, behavior and test scores, she’s also responsible for the facilities and the bureaucracy that comes along with running a small city. She says that while statewide budget cuts have been challenging, both community sponsors and parents have really stepped up to close the gap.
“Parents are invaluable,” Carey said. “They staff the traffic committee, after-prom party and senior week. We couldn’t do it without their help.”
She said the other chief challenge in her new role is to close the achievement gap. Recent test scores offer promising numbers, but she says there is significant work ahead to level the playing field and raise student scores across the board.
“It’s a complex problem that requires a multipronged solution,” Carey said.
Her approach includes massive parent outreach and research into other schools that have devised successful systemic support models for an underperforming population.
When she isn’t working, Carey said she enjoys camping and traveling. She and her partner had a baby in the spring, so most of her free time is spent playing mom. Despite a very full plate, Carey appears ready to tackle it all.