Sheila Harrity

Worcester Technical High School
Worcester, MA

Sheila Harrity, the first Massachusetts principal to be named a national principal of the year in the program’s 20-year history, took over as principal at Worcester Tech in 2006 with a new building and a renewed community commitment to turn the school around from its status as one of the lowest performing in the state. Harrity seized the opportunity to implement small learning communities, change the school’s culture, and empower teachers so all of the school’s nearly 1,400 students would graduate to thrive in the 21st century.

Guiding the school toward a personalized learning environment, Harrity implemented the Early Career and College STEM Innovation Plan. She also capitalized on the school’s technical focus to gather more than 350 industry advisors who contribute to the direction and success of the school and its students. The result is a saturation of project-based learning, real-world application, and authentic assessment. Students service a 125-seat restaurant, a L’Oreal Redkin salon and day spa, a 16-bay automotive service center, a full-service bank, and a state-approved preschool. Most recently Worcester Tech teamed with Tufts University to launch Tufts at Tech, an animal clinic that provides affordable animal care for low-income families in the Worcester area.

“Principal Harrity, with her extraordinary passion for high-quality teaching and learning and relentless focus on student achievement, serves as a valuable contributor to the profession,” said Worcester Public Schools Superintendent Melinda Boone. “When she is faced with a goal that cannot be accomplished, she adjusts her approach rather than the goal. Principal Harrity continuously seeks to improve and serves as a model of excellence for her staff, students, and the learning community.”

The results of Harrity’s leadership are apparent in Worcester Tech’s state test scores (MCAS). The percentage of students who achieved Advanced or Proficient in English Language Arts rose from 27% to 88% in 2006–12, and in math from 35% to 78% during that same period. The record of growth fosters an atmosphere of high expectations for all students. In 2008, Worcester Tech offered its first AP course. By 2010, with the assistance of a Massachusetts Math and Science Initiative Grant, the number of students in AP courses doubled, and the number of credit-qualifying scores rose 63%.

The school’s success earned them a MetLife Foundation-NASSP Breakthrough School designation in 2011. Recognizing Harrity’s role in the school’s success, Gov. Deval Patrick named her to the Governor’s Task Force for College and Career Readiness. Harrity also sits on the Massachusetts PARCC Task Force and presented on a panel for NBC’s Education Nation in 2012.

“Motivated to improve her school continually, Sheila Harrity demonstrates how a principal’s focused instructional leadership can expand educational opportunities and raise student achievement,” said NASSP Executive Director JoAnn Bartoletti. “With an emphasis on personalization, academic rigor, and collaborative leadership–hallmarks of NASSP’s Breaking Ranks framework for school improvement–Sheila employed creative ways to ensure each student in her school was well served.”

“We applaud Sheila Harrity for her leadership in engaging all stakeholders at Worcester Technical High School,” said Derrick Kelson, vice president, MetLife. “Her efforts to cultivate business partnerships ensure all students have opportunities to fulfill their potential and create a brighter future for the community.”

“It is important to recognize outstanding school leadership,” added Dennis White, vice president of Corporate Contributions for MetLife. “The MetLife/NASSP National Principal of the Year Program acknowledges the crucial role of principals as leaders and individuals who go above and beyond to make their schools the best they can be for students, teachers, and communities.”