Tell Me Something, Shawn Krasa
Our employees do interesting, often amazing, things and we want to highlight their achievements and accomplishments. Tell Me Something takes a look behind the scenes at the lives and jobs of your colleagues. This week’s interview is with Shawn Krasa, principal of Thomas Edison High School of Technology.
Shawn Krasa’s introduction to career and technology education goes back a lifetime.
It goes back to a one-story rooftop, in fact, in northwestern Pennsylvania, when Krasa was just three years old.
Left in the care of his maternal grandfather, Krasa’s mother returned home from an errand to find the young boy on the roof learning how to install shingles.
“I was loving it,” Krasa said. “My mother … was horrified. She still loves to tell that story.”
And ever since, Krasa has had a litany of experiences and stories to tell about his maternal and paternal grandfathers, who were both raised in and held jobs in the construction trades.
“I enjoyed working with my grandfathers and my dad,” Krasa said. “By 10, when most of my friends were playing video games, I was learning how to drive bulldozers and doing masonry, electricity and plumbing.”
His maternal grandfather, Don Swart, attended a vocational program in high school to learn welding and automotive repair. He worked as a carpenter and in a steel factory.
His paternal grandfather, John Krasa, was a Czechoslovakian immigrant who came through Ellis Island. He was one of 10 kids and had an eighth grade education. “He learned the trades at a very early age, and started building houses,” Krasa said. The family settled south of Erie, Penn. His grandfather owned a farm; his parents got married after high school and bought land from the farm to build a house. Krasa’s father designed and built the family’s three-bedroom rancher. Krasa is the middle child of three boys.
“We hunted and fished and lived off the land,” Krasa recalls. “My mom would can foods. My dad was a carpenter at the local factory. He was also an EMT, and went back to school at 50 and got a nursing degree. My mom started out working at the local bakery and making wedding cakes; later she got into ceramics.”
Do What You Know
If anything, Krasa’s path to becoming a technology education teacher was predictable. While in high school, the classes he enjoyed most were technology education (tech ed). When he moved to Buffalo, N.Y. to attend college, he took a job as a maintenance worker and carpenter for a John Deere dealership. He became certified in scuba diving and licensed to repair scuba equipment. He’s also done a fair amount of ice diving and shipwreck diving. He graduated from Buffalo State College with a degree in technology education.
“At the time, the focus of the curriculum was transitioning from traditional industrial arts wood shop and metal shop to applications of math, science, technology and engineering, now known as STEM,” Krasa said. “When I was thinking about where I was and looking at where the programs were in the country, Montgomery County was a change agent. They were cutting edge.”
He found his way to MCPS 18 years ago; his first job was as a tech ed teacher at Earle B. Wood Middle School, where he spent five years. He later was the first magnet coordinator at Parkland Middle School for Aerospace Technology. From there, he held several jobs in teaching and administration.
“When the [Edison] opportunity came up, it was the best of both worlds for me,” Krasa said. “It was a combination of my growing up and everything my father and grandfather had taught me. I fully understood the value of CTE. I want to teach students how to explore that world.”
Walking the Walk and Tapping the Trees
The value of tech ed, Krasa believes, is not only about skills learned in preparation for a career, but also about skills you can use in life.
While in his 20s, after becoming a technology education teacher, he created his first side business managing rental properties. He learned how to manage rental properties from his grandfather. He still buys real estate properties, fixes them up and resells them. He also handles plenty of fix-it projects around the house.
“I know plumbing,” he says. “I can do electricity. HVAC is one of the areas I know the least about because we didn’t have air conditioning growing up. That’s something I’ve learned about since coming to Maryland. We used to heat the house with firewood, and my dad still does. About five years ago, I helped him install AC. I go home and help him with projects. I still go out in the woods and cut firewood.”
He does his own oil changes on the car, has fixed transmissions and replaces his brake pads and light bulbs. He’s also passing down family traditions—like teaching his kids how to make maple syrup. “Every spring, we would go out and tap 350 trees and boil the sap down to make maple syrup.
He didn’t grow up watching a lot of TV; the family had just three channels. But no matter, Krasa had plenty to keep him busy, much like he does today. His favorite childhood memories involve playing catch with his dad or home run derby with his cousins. These days, he coaches his daughter’s softball team and is learning lacrosse so he can help with his son’s team. His also takes the family fishing when they find time.
“I have a Seadoo jet boat; it’s about 20 years old. I’ve been working on it for the last three years. I downloaded the manual and watch YouTube. I enjoy tinkering with it.”
Explorers … to Advocates
Krasa’s vision for Edison is simple.
“I think we are the keystone institution for career and college readiness. When you look at the programs we offer in Montgomery County, CTE introduces students to potential career opportunities and colleges. Right now, the research in college education is that 40 percent of students who attend college change their major at least once. By having an opportunity to experience it in high school, you can look at, ‘Is it for me? Is it something I want to pursue?’ It adds value to that whole discussion.”
The new Edison, currently under construction, will be a four-floor, 170,000-square-foot wonder. It will house the 19 programs the school already has, including construction trades, automotive trades, graphic design, culinary arts, network operations and human and consumer services, among others.
The school is exploring adding two more programs for the 2018-2019 school year—a police academy and homeland security/cybersecurity. The fourth floor of the building will be the Junior Achievement Finance Park.
The Edison staff includes many who have worked in the industries they teach, Krasa says. “We have people who have worked in dealerships, in the construction trades, in cosmetology. We have a chef. We have highly skilled nurses in the medical programs who can speak to what it’s like to prepare for that level of work. We have an opportunity to really give students the experiences they’re looking for.
“For me, when I think about why I do what I do, it’s about making a difference for students. I view the principal role as being a teacher of teachers. You can have a bigger impact on a larger scale. I’m always a teacher at heart.”
Tell Me More
Hometown: Corry, Penn.
Family: Wife Stacy-Jo, children Noah, 12, and Lillian-Jo, 10
First job: Lifeguard when he was 16 years old
Favorite sports: Football, swimming, baseball
Favorite sports team: Dallas Cowboys
Favorite pastime: Snowboarding
One thing you couldn’t live without: Family
If you could learn to do anything, what would it be: I want to learn to be the best principal I can be. I look at it as more of a verb than a noun.
Three traits that define you: Respect, trust, treating people the way you want to be treated
Best place you’ve traveled to: Paris