Voorheesville Principal Richard Shea plans to lead by example

— From the Voorheesville Central School District

Richard Shea, the new principal of Clayton A. Bouton High School, had been the principal of Albany High School’s Discovery Academy for the past two years.

NEW SCOTLAND — Richard Shea, the next principal of Clayton A. Bouton High School, had both practical and aspirational reasons in applying for the job.

He and his partner are closing on some property in the village and are looking to build a home in the next few years — “depending on lumber prices, of course,” he said — and knowing what an excellent district Voorheesville is, he thought maybe someday down the line, in five or 10 years, a position would open up and he could apply. And in the meantime, he would stay in Albany.

For the past two years, Shea had been the principal Albany High School’s Discovery Academy, which “allows students considering careers in acting, computer animation, directing, fashion, graphic arts, journalism, music, photography, videography or web design to explore courses that will provide them with the 21st-century skills necessary to be successful in the information age,” according to the academy itself, which has approximately 650 students and 45 staff members.

But Shea got his chance when Principal Laura Schmitz, after six years in the post, stepped down unexpectedly because of her health. He’ll make $109,000 this year.

Another reason Shea applied for the job was because of the smaller learning community Voorheesville provides. A Montgomery County native, Shea grew up in the tiny village of Fonda, so he’s “very much used to the smaller setting.”

And besides his tenure in Albany, every other district he’s been in has been small, which he said provides an increased chance to build relationships. Small school districts can also provide students with different opportunities than larger ones, he said.

“The smaller setting really helps drive a different level of relationship-building and academics,” he said. “And then the academic environment there at the high school is just top-notch; it just shows the level of the teachers and students’ dedication towards the academic rigor.”

Going from Albany High School, where the student body is 79 percent non-white, to Clayton A. Bouton, where the number of Black students enrolled at the high school could be counted on one hand, could be a bit of a culture shock for Shea. But he pointed to his ability to adapt to a situation, starting in Hudson at the Warren Street Academy, where he was an associate principal.

“We had a wide range of students down there,” he said. 

Warren Street Academy took in students who were at-risk for not graduating and gave them extra support in a more individualized school setting. The school closed in 2020 — its enrollment over the last couple of years was in the 40s.

Shea said he felt he had “adapted really well to the smaller community” in Hudson. “Growing up in a high school fairly similar to Voorheesville, I’m really kind of going back to what I’ve learned there,” he said, noting his high school experience was a few years ago.

Shea said he’s always wanted to be a teacher.

“When I look back, I look at the teachers I’ve had and how they shaped me to this day,” he said. “And I’ve always wanted to have that same effect on other students.”

As for the switch from teacher to administrator, he said he had been a teacher-leader at the Berkshire Union Free School District, and had been on a number of leadership committees. 

“And then we had the opportunity to build our own program from the ground up down at Warren Street Academy in Hudson,” he said

It was there, Shea said, he learned the skills, policies, and procedures to build a school. 

“And I remember asking my superintendent, ‘What do you think if I went on to get my administrative degree?’ And he goes, ‘Absolutely.’”

Shea received his bachelor’s degree from the State University of New York at Oswego and a master’s degree in education from The College of Saint Rose.

As for his leadership style, he said, it’s leading by example: “Anything I ask, I’m also doing that myself.”

Shea’s got a four-year interval before the school board decides whether or not to grant tenure. Asked about his goals or what he’d like to achieve in his time at Voorheesville, Shea said, “I really want to hit the ground running and get to know the community quickly, the staff, students, and families.”

He continued, “I think that’s key, to kind of get myself integrated into the community.” Beyond that, he said the district as a whole is doing some “equity work right now,” and he wants to make sure that work is carried to fruition. 

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