Wednesday, 14 May 2014 13:18

Dundalk High School principal Tom Shouldice has been named Humanitarian of the Year by the Optimist Club of Dundalk for his achievement in reviving the once-fading high school. photo by Bill Gates

Optimist honoree improved links between school, local community

by Bill Gates

When Tom Shouldice became principal of Dundalk High School in 2008, the school was on the verge of federal intervention and being declared a “failed school” after not having attained Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) goals for five consecutive years.
    Today, Dundalk High is housed in a newly-constructed building, with a new athletic stadium being built alongside it, and the students routinely achieve the AYP standards.
    This is one of the main reasons Shouldice is being honored as the Optimist Club of Dundalk’s Humanitarian of the Year.
    This award is given annually by the Optimists to a non-resident of Dundalk who has done much to help the community.
    For Shouldice, it is just doing what he feels he should be doing.
    “I think of a humanitarian as a person who goes out and works the lines,” he said. “From my standpoint, my role is to get things moving.
    “I’m sort of like a venture capitalist; I provide the opportunity and the ideas so we can get things moving.”
    One of the biggest things Shouldice wanted to help get started when he arrived at Dundalk High was strengthening the bond between the high school and the community.
     The school facilities are open to community use, students have become involved in community events, and the high school has established relationships with all the elementary and middle schools whose students eventually attend Dundalk High.
    “There have been a number of things we’ve put into place over the last six years that weren’t here, and we’re doing things we hadn’t done in the last 15 years,” Shouldice said.
    “I want the pride back in the school. And I think it is.”
    When the new Dundalk High/Sollers Point Technical building was in the design phase, Shouldice wanted to make sure it would meet the needs of the community.
    When he arrived at Dundalk High after serving as principal at Dundalk Middle, “the students were not that involved with the community.”
    Now, Dundalk High students participate in the Fall Festival, march in the July 4 parade, help out with tree plantings and trash cleanups, and take part in various winter events.
    “This building was designed in response to the community’s wishes,” Shouldice said. “The community needed a place to come together; meetings, events, this was all designed to bring the community into the school.”
    Dundalk High had to go into alternate governance and be restructured entering the 2008 school year, and Shouldice was brought in to lead the school through the process.
    The Baltimore County and state school boards had to approve the restructuring plan, which included a 70 percent turnover in staff after the first year.
    Now, “people don’t realize how good our staff is; it’s top-notch,” Shouldice said. “Our teachers are so good, they’re being scooped up by other schools.
    “It’s a double-edged sword: you want your teachers to stay here, and be productive, but you don’t want to hold someone back.”
    Many of the faculty and staff live in the area, and bring “added value” to the school by coaching athletics, sponsoring clubs and volunteering for events in the community.
    Shouldice was nominated for Humanitarian of the Year by Dundalk High administrative secretary Debra Blimline.
    (Told he may have to get up before an audience and speak during the Optimist Club’s Citizen of the Year banquet, Shouldice joked that he “owes” Blimline for the nomination.)
    With the new school in its first year, Blimline wrote “Mr. Shouldice continues to spend his own time showcasing the building, his students and staff by providing after-hours tours for alumni, community businesses and stakeholders,
    “He remains firm in his belief that bringing the community into the school, as well as sending the school into the community, is one sure way our youth can grow and become productive members of society.”
    Shouldice does this despite undergoing back surgery during the Easter break.
    “I had some flattened vertebrae,” he said. “They went in and cemented them back together.”
    Shouldice said receiving the Humanitarian honor has also raised his appreciation of the Optimists.
    “They really are the humanitarians who are doing it for the community,” he said. “They are so engaged, and they’re such a small group. They’re really being productive and giving everything they have.”