Impact Stories

  • Maria Nicolacakis

Acalanes High School Welcomes New Principal Eric Shawn

In the words of Superintendent Nickerson, Travis Bell left big shoes to fill, but Eric Shawn is certain to forge his own path. With extensive experience in education, Mr. Shawn arrives at Acalanes ready and excited to lead our Lafayette high school. LPIE recently chatted with Mr. Shawn where we learned about his background, outlook and “ABCs” framework.

Welcome! Please tell us about yourself. What is your background and how did your path lead you to Acalanes?

I am a California native and taught World History, US History, and American Studies at Washington High School before becoming the Dean of Students at Alameda High School where I was tasked with implementing restorative justice practices and developing school climate and culture initiatives. For the last six years I was the House Principal at James Logan High School where I was responsible for providing oversight to several academic departments, supporting technology infrastructure and programs, and coordinating the health and wellness initiatives at the school. The work I did at both Alameda High School and James Logan pushed me to want to be a high school principal and to work in a community who strives for academic excellence while also ensuring care and support for the whole student. As I learned more about Acalanes, the community, and the work being done to ensure connection and belonging here, I felt that I would be an excellent fit.

What are your goals as principal? What are you most excited about in your new role?

As a school we have a goal of returning to the ABC’s of ACA - that means focusing on our Academics, ensuring our students feel Belonging, and the strategy by which we achieve that is through Collaboration.

My primary goal as principal is to ensure that our students continue to have access to an excellent academic program and that every day they leave their classes believing that they belong, that their teachers care for them, and that they will learn at high levels. This includes ensuring that we regularly support the wellness of our students and ensure they have balance in their lives. Whether it is engagement in a high quality enrichment activity at our school like the arts, drama, music, student leadership, or athletics, or something that makes them unique and happens outside of school, we want to ensure that we regularly support our students in their mental, physical, and social wellbeing. The way we do this is by effective collaboration - working together to ensure collective efficacy so that we are all going in the same direction; working together with other educators we trust in doing what’s best for our students and community.

I am most excited to get to know our students and teachers and to support them in achieving the exceptional.

We are getting out of a crazy year. How do you foresee this new phase we are in, in particular students going back to school full time? How well poised is Acalanes to safely welcome students back?

Since the start of the school year, it has felt so comforting having students back at school. As I walk the campus, I hear students all the time commenting how awesome it is to be back and how excited they are to be in their classes - they genuinely express liking their teachers and school! All of this feels incredibly normal; however, the trick in all this is it is not normal. We still grapple with the fear of COVID every day. While I am confident that our mitigation efforts ensure that our kids can safely attend school and that our staff is safe in working with students, the feeling that COVID still looms large is abundantly present by the visible nature of masks and of recent COVID-positive students and staff. Nonetheless, I believe that our safety measures, universal masking and ventilation, as well as high levels of vaccination in our community, ensure that Acalanes is a safe place to send your kids to school.

Aside from Covid, what are some high level issues facing public education, particularly for high school, today?

I believe that as an institution we have always been challenged to ensure that the education we provide is relevant to the world that students will enter as they become adults. Today this means taking a hard look at our systems that may reinforce institutionalized oppression and bias, whether intentionally or unintentionally, and ensuring that our curriculum and program supports the inclusion of all perspectives and realities. This means doing everything in our power to create safe spaces for our students to process what has been happening in our world and supporting them in developing the skills to navigate and be healthy individuals, and thus powerful citizens and community members responsible not only to themselves but to those around them.

From your perspective, how is an educational foundation like LPIE important to Acalanes?

LPIE is essential to providing the full educational experience that our kids deserve. Their commitment to ensuring that they support every student in every classroom is commendable. In California, we know that the funding we receive from the state is not enough to ensure the type of education we all want for our children and it’s because of LPIE that we can do so much more to light the spark that inspires our kids to learn and do amazing things.

What would you tell your high school aged self today?

You’re not going to be an FBI agent. Sorry bud.

But in all seriousness, I would tell him that you’re making the best friends of your life right now. They will be in your community forever, know you fully, and support you in all you do, and that what we had in high school (and will have beyond high school) is special.

What is your favorite movie of all time?

The Last Waltz