Shaun Tomaszewski once dreamed of becoming a doctor. Then, he fell in love with teaching.
As someone who thrives in areas where he’s passionate, Tomaszewski jumped ship on his initial plans to enter the medical field and went for a job he loved.
After nearly a decade in education serving in a variety of capacities in districts ranging from city to small suburban, Tomaszewski will become Baldwin High School’s principal on July 1.
“My MO is to come in and listen to people,” said Tomaszewski, 31, of Bethel Park.
Tomaszewski was hired by the Baldwin-Whitehall School Board in May to replace retiring principal Walter Graves, who worked at Baldwin for six years.
Tomaszewski’s path to principal is far from typical.
A University of Pittsburgh student who began in 2005, Tomaszewski graduated from the honor’s college in 2009 with a degree in microbiology and neuroscience.
He did two years of research as an undergrad, but found he hated it, even after switching to a new lab in hopes that something would click.
During his sophomore year, he became a teaching assistant in the chemistry department and later worked as a teaching assistant in the biology department.
Even though he found a love in teaching, he still planned to become a doctor under the notion, “I could just be a clinical professor. I could go to med school and just teach.”
His advisor at the time made a profound statement that stopped him in his tracks: “You can either be a good physician or a really incredible teacher.”
That’s the moment he decided to go into education.
He went on to get his master’s in science education at Pitt, while student teaching at Mt. Lebanon High School, all while working evenings at Beaver County Community College teaching biology.
He was hired full-time in Mt. Lebanon and went on to become the sixth to 12th grade science department chair during his three years in the district.
He’s never stopped being a student or teacher. He switched from teaching at Beaver County Community College to the Community College of Allegheny County [CCAC] and later to Pitt. He went on to get his principal’s certificate and start his doctoral program at Pitt. He plans to graduate with his doctorate in policy studies in 2020.
But he’s not done. He wants to go back for either an MBA or a JD. This year will be his first not teaching.
Tomaszewski’s career has led him to diverse places. He left Mt. Lebanon to become the K-12 STEAM coordinator at Pittsburgh Public Schools, a job that wasn’t funded by the general fund and only lasted two and a half years.
He saw STEAM as something that was meant to empower teachers and “create learning opportunities that would engage their students,” he said. “I always said, ‘We’ll know STEAM is successful when kids want to come to school.”
He went on to a career as the director of curriculum and assessment at Northgate, where college in high school courses became a graduation requirement during his tenure.
In order to graduate from Northgate, students now have to take five college in high school courses, or 16 credits worth. The district partnered with CCAC to ensure the students get the credits. The Grable Foundation this school year gave the district $150,000 to fund those core graduation credits through 2022, he said.
Tomaszewski believes that a principal should be on call 24/7. He and his husband, Chris Fox, live in Bethel Park. That means there’s only three high schools close enough for him to be able to work and be on call 24 hours a day, he said. He also likes the idea of working as a principal at a big high school, likely since he went to Bethel Park, he said.
There were 20 applicants for the principal job at Baldwin, according to Superintendent Randal Lutz.
It was during the second round of interviews that Tomaszewski stood out. During the second round, Lutz brought in both teachers and students to interview the candidates.
“We’re at a crossroads at the high school, the demographics are changing,” Lutz said. “We need somebody to come in and put their foot down.”
That could mean a lot of things, the superintendent said, but includes behavior, attitude and consistency — something he said is not a reflection on the past administration.
Tomaszewski brings to the school “the ability to think, the ability to problem solve and the track record of doing it,” Lutz said.
Tomaszewski’s game plan will be formed as he gets to know the school and its players. He first plans to create “really explicit structures for conversations,” including having meetings between student leaders who typically don’t have their voice heard, faculty leaders and administration.
They’ll look at: “Where are we now? Where do we want to be? And, how do we get there?”
“My core educational philosophy is that learning should always be culturally responsive, cross-curricular and project-based,” he said.
Tomaszewski is open about his sexuality as a gay man.
He wishes that he had known earlier in life about teachers who were gay, so that he would have had somebody to look up to who was successful to model himself after.
He’s always been open and, to his surprise, there’s never been an issue.
Instead, he recalls receiving a letter from a student thanking him for being so open.
He also makes sure to quickly correct students when they say things that could be hurtful towards others. They respect him and are willing to listen, he said. The students he’s spoken with end up correcting others and creating a ripple of change — something that will continue as he leads at Baldwin High School.