Day goes by fast for Donovan


Shannon Ahearn

New principal Dan Donovan and secretary Lauren Miller are veterans of the school system but are in new positions this year.

Shannon Ahearn, Staff Writer

In his first weeks as principal of the largest high school in Connecticut with 3,000 students or thereabouts, Dan Donovan has already dealt with construction noise, a fight, Open House, faculty meetings, fire drills and alarms, and has made thousands of decisions.

And none of that includes his dealings with the district office, the public (again, noise complaints), meetings with his associate and assistant principals, and handling his load of teacher evaluations.

Still, he seems totally unfazed as the first month of school draws to a close.

“There are always bumps in the road,” said Donovan, sitting in the office vacated by the retired Gary Bocaccio. “But the kids are here, the construction is loud [and] we’re going to have to deal with it. Overall, though, it’s going well.”

Last year, the district announced that Donovan would be the new principal upon Bocaccio’s retirement. Donovan began his career in education at the old Ellsworth Avenue Elementary School as a fifth-grade teacher, then Broadview.

He was promoted to assistant principal at DHS and soon was named principal of its new Freshman Academy, which he directed for five years before becoming DHS principal. Before this, he spent four years at Level AP and then was the athletics director for a year.

Donovan says that the biggest transition between a floor of 600 to 3,000 students and 200 staff members is the pace of the day.

“When I was a teacher I knew my schedule; five 45-minute periods a day. When you are an AP your day is in 15 minute chunks … as a principal, I find it is 5 minute chunks of time all day long.”

While on D4, where most academy classes are held, he guided many initiatives, including the joint venture with Naugatuck Valley Community College that gives freshmen the chance to work on an associate’s degree while in high school.

Emily Pardalis is an academy Social Studies teacher who has worked with Donovan since the academy was created. She said DHS is in good hands, and like Bocaccio, offers stability.

“Mr. Donovan has the perfect personality to deal with all of the physical changes that are occurring this year as well,” Pardalis said. “He truly follows through on his word and works for what is best for students and teachers.”

Working for the well-being of his staff and students is exactly what Donovan is planning to do.

Lily Hennig, a sophomore, had nothing but fond memories of working with Donovan in the academy.

“I remember last year during math class we were always given extra-credit that involved teachers. We would go to Mr. Donovan for his help and he was always willing, even if it was embarrassing for him.”

When asked about his goals, Donovan simply explained that he wants to make high school the best possible experience that he can.

“I want students to look back at high school and say, ‘That was a good time, it was fun, I learned,’”

Although demands for his time have increased, Donovan says he tries to stay out and about, saying hello to students and staff during pass.  

He said the day goes by fast, and sometimes he struggles with that. Often what he has planned to work on gets interrupted several times during the school day. Still, Donovan faces problems head-on, even with a smile on his face.

Jared Cowden, who teaches freshman Biology, said Donovan, “will be successful because he has garnered support of a strong staff and excellent assistant principals with a diversity of experiences. He really seems to understand what makes Danbury High School such a great community.”

Many students can testify to the community created by Donovan. Olivia Paris, a sophomore, said he takes an interest in the lives of students.

“I was walking to my next class wearing my sports jersey,” she recalled. “Mr. Donovan stopped me and started talking about our game and my team. He seemed like he was really interested and wished me luck at the end of our conversation.

Casual conversations with him in the hall are not out of the ordinary for many at the school. Donovan frequently makes time for the student body and his faculty and staff.

Again, Pardalis has first-hand experience with this.

“Most administrators will tell their teachers that ‘the door is always open,’ but Mr. Donovan actually means his door is always open,” she said, “and he’s always ready to listen whether it’s about a student, an overwhelming schedule, construction or family.

“By making the students and teachers his focus, the school will only continue to improve.”