NEWBURY — Newbury resident Margaret Callahan has a bachelor's degree from Wheaton College, a master's from Simmons and is working on her doctorate in education at UMass Lowell, but ask her about high school and stand back.
"I'm a Triton Viking," she announces proudly. "I grew up on Mudnock Road. We moved from Newburyport to Salisbury when my father became fire chief there."
Today, all her various alma maters have reason to be very proud of their alumna, as do her friends and family. She's the principal of New Hampshire's Seacoast School of Technology in Exeter, considered the best high school career and technical education center in the Granite State. On Tuesday, Callahan was named Career and Technical Principal of 2011 by the New Hampshire Association of School Principals.
"It's so exciting," Callahan said. "I'm just very proud and so proud of this school. This is a team effort; I have the best staff in the world, and the kids are just great. This is a no-nonsense place. Everyone here wants to be here."
SST works differently from technical schools in Massachusetts, like Whittier, where students attend full time, Callahan said. Students attend SST from six area high schools, such as Winnacunnet Regional High School. Students take their core courses at their high school, then sign up to take special curriculum at SST.
The options at SST are many, including college-level courses. They include 13 different technical curricula, such as pre-engineering, health sciences and biotechnology, computer programing, digital communication, early childhood education, culinary arts and automotive technology.
The school has a reputation for having the most up-to-date equipment, course materials and teachers. According to one of Callahan's faculty members, Bob Nienhouse, much of the reason for that reputation is Callahan's diligence.
"Margaret ran the whole renovation we had here," said Nienhouse, a teacher in the automotive technology program. "She worked really hard to make sure we have a top-notch, state-of-the-art, program to offer. She always makes sure staff have time to train to keep up with the most cutting-edge technology to teach our students. She'll do anything for these kids. Really, if we need something, she makes sure it happens."
Members of the New Hampshire Association of School Principals spent time in Exeter, interviewing staff and students after Callahan's school superintendent, Michael Morgan, nominated her for the award. By the time they left the school, they had a picture of a principal who "lives and breathes SST," according to the press release issued by the association yesterday.
"She's a hands-on administrator who greets the buses every morning, visits the children of the Wright Start Preschool (at SST), observes the Health Sciences students' dissections and even wipes down the counters in Culinary Arts," the association's press release noted.
SST staff member Stacie Beaulieu, a Salisbury resident, said working at the technical school and under Callahan's guidance is "amazing."
"I can't say enough about her," Beaulieu said. "She has so much respect for her staff and her students. Margaret works tirelessly to make sure everyone's needs are met, students and staff. The staff is happy, and I find a very positive attitude here. I think ultimately that comes down from the leadership. That attitude starts at the top."
It also comes from having years of teaching and administrative experience to draw upon. Callahan started by teaching economics in Tennessee in 1988 and moved back to Salisbury and taught in fifth grade at Salisbury Memorial School, then seventh at Triton until 1998.
Moving on to other teaching positions in New Hampshire, she made the decision to move to educational administration in 2000, taking a position as dean of students at Miss Hall's School in Pittsfield.
Then, it was on to Pembroke Academy in New Hampshire as an assistant principal for three years until she landed at SST as its assistant principal in 2005, taking over as principal in 2007.
"I feel very fortunate," Callahan said. "I feel really very grateful to work here. This is a great place to be."
Callahan is married to her husband of almost 20 years, Chris Hickey.
"He's a Plum Island native," she said. "And he's a Triton Viking, too."