Former SPHS Tech And Engineering Chair Set For Retirement


Brad Hill sat in the backyard of his Cape St. Claire home, rocking in a homemade swing crafted from an old canoe.

“The tree growing out there, that’s a linden tree, and that’s native and the bees love it,” said Hill, pointing to a section near another bench made of skis that Hill crafted.

While Hill recently retired after 42 years as an educator, the outdoor lover, husband, father, sailor, mountain biker, paddleboarder and skier of double black diamond runs won’t have a hard time filling up his newfound time.

“I’m still effective, I still love what I do, I’m still an effective leader, but it’s time for somebody to bring in new ideas,” Hill said. “Also, selfishly, I’ve got my health, and it’s time to do things while I still have my health.”

Hill most recently served as the department chair of the Severna Park High School (SPHS) technology and engineering program — a vision he started in 2005 with one teacher. Under Hill’s guidance, it has grown to a department with seven teachers that enrolls more than 450 students annually.

“I’ll compare that department with any department in the country in tech and engineering,” Hill said.

Many graduates of the technology and engineering program at SPHS have gone on to impressive careers, including a pair of F-35 fighter jet pilots, coders for electric vehicle manufacturer Rivian, designers for Mars habitat, engineers who enhance prosthetics and one who works to prevent military suicides.

“We have to think about education different than we’ve ever done before,” said Hill, noting that China is set to double the U.S. fleet of engineers by 2025. “We are training our kids today for jobs that don’t exist.”

Past students in Hill’s classes may remember that his No. 1 rule was to laugh every day.

“These kids need more than just academics,” Hill said. “They need to understand that life is great, but sometimes it’s awful, sometimes it’s bitter, sometimes it’s brutal, and you have to come out of it stronger. We, as teachers, aren’t just there to teach our subjects, and if we’re not in there, and we’re not the most enthusiastic person in the room, I’m not sure if we belong there.”

Former SPHS engineering students may also recall the words on the sign hanging up in the hallway near Hill’s former classroom: Where theory ends and real life begins.

“We can teach kids all the theory we want, but if we don’t apply it, and we don’t know how to apply it, it doesn’t do any good,” said Hill, noting that tech and engineering courses incorporate most subjects that kids are learning in other classrooms.

Hill was also responsible for bringing Project Lead The Way (PLTW) to SPHS. PLTW is a four-year pre-engineering honors program that focuses on courses such as Introduction to Engineering Design, Aerospace Engineering, Civil Engineering and Principles of Engineering.

“Brad was endless in his pursuits as a lifelong learner,” said Steve Cahoon, PLTW coordinator and tech and engineering teacher at SPHS. “That is a mindset that our department really tries to encourage and foster in our students, and Brad was the epitome.”

It’s the constant curiosity that has enabled Hill to grow the tech and engineering program at SPHS. Hill credits his fellow educators for the department’s sustained success.

“When you’re with a group like that, they just make you better,” Hill said. “You don’t have the opportunity to sit back and not be good.”

Things were once different than the thriving program that’s still on display at SPHS. When Hill arrived at SPHS in 1997, the school had just a pair of working computers for the department, plexiglass windows in the classrooms were often falling out and Hill was tasked with teaching seven subjects a day. He was also trying to build the communication and architecture programs as well enabling more engineering principles courses.

“There were times that I had to question myself as to why I was there,” Hill said. “We were the bottom-feeders when I first got there. We really changed the paradigm at Severna Park as to what tech ed was.”

Hill’s dedication to growing the program was obvious. He even composed recruiting letters touting the virtues of the area and developed a pipeline of potential educators from a Pittsburgh university.

“I was smart enough to hire people smarter than me,” Hill said. “The only way that you get better is to get the best people.”

Cahoon said Hill offered steadfast encouragement to the department and worked tirelessly to collaborate with teachers across the county, all while developing new study material and projects, revamping lessons and writing letters of recommendations for students.

“Brad always made himself available to students and staff alike and was a daily presence in the hallway, with good mornings, fist bumps and daily check-ins with students to see how they were doing,” Cahoon said.

Allison Lee, a 2020 SPHS graduate who is currently heading into her senior year at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County while working as a software developer for the Department of Defense, was one of Hill’s former students who wrote letters of thanks and congratulations to Hill for a retirement gift.

“I’ll never forget the experiences and lessons PLTW gave me and how it helped me form my goals and interests,” Lee said.

Hill began teaching at Liberty High School in Sykesville, Maryland, in 1981. He coached cross country and track at the school and more kids called him coach than mister.

“I still had acne; I could barely grow a beard,” Hill recalled. “I was teaching kids just a few years younger than I was.”

A month after his honeymoon with wife Mary Ann, he was searching for a new campus as he was let go in a reduction of force.

He next moved to Central Middle School in Edgewater, Maryland, as a part-time tech ed and physical education teacher.

“It was a time where we really had to rethink what we were going to do in tech ed,” Hill recalled. “We were calling ourselves tech ed, but we were honestly still shop.”

Hill was at a crossroads. He knew he missed teaching at the high school ranks, but he had internal questions — Is he effective? Is he making the world a better place? Is it best for his family?

That’s when the opportunity at SPHS opened, along with school leadership that seemed to be on a similar page, and Hill never looked back.

“My philosophy has always been, ‘Teach like you want your kids to be taught,’” Hill said. “Every day, they should be getting something out of your classroom.”

In the case of the Chaisson family, they knew exactly what their sons would be offered.

David Chaisson had Hill as a teacher at Liberty High School, where David graduated in 1982. Hill went on to teach the Chaisson’s three sons — Thomas, Alexander and Matthew, SPHS classes of 2016, 2019 and 2020, respectively.

All three are now, or soon to be, engineers.

Thomas serves as an engineer at Lockheed Martin, Alexander studied nuclear engineering at North Carolina State University and serves with the U.S. Navy, and Matthew studies mechanical engineering at the University of Maryland.

“Your efforts to bring and run PLTW has been life-changing for all of your students,” read a letter from the Chaisson family to Hill.

Hill spoke highly of changes he’s witnessed in his 40-plus years in the educational realm, such as the growth of female students interested in engineering. During Hill’s first year at SPHS, one female student was in the program. Now, about half of the program’s graduating class are girls.

“We can’t continue to keep doing the same things that we’re doing,” Hill said. “Kids come into school, and it’s been proven that they come in with more imagination and more curiosity than when they leave as graduates. They have to color their hair purple, let them get in the coloring book and color outside the lines … whatever it is, stop taking away their creativity.”


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