By Eileen Gallagher
Admired, respected and well-liked by all, Dr. William Donohue is a name familiar to most, if not all, families in the Byram Hills School District. With the start of the new school year quickly approaching, Inside Armonk caught up with this Big Man on Campus to bring him up close and personal.
What you might be surprised to learn about Dr. Donohue…
He has travelled to 36 countries at last count. Taking advantage of some time off during summer and winter breaks, Donohue visits locations across the globe including exotic destinations such as Cambodia, India, or the Mediterranean. Much of the excitement of his travels comes from sketching out his plans ahead of time. Donohue loves to visit places “with historical or cultural interest.” He is fascinated with everything historic and romantic about ancient culture, and has a collection both at home and in his office of antiquities from Asia and Africa. “I like to understand and learn, where has this been? Who made this?”
What does he love about his job?
Donohue admires institutions.
Describing one of his passions, Donohue phrased it as “trying to build a quality institution that offers something lasting and valuable for the community.”
“Institutions offer so much,” he continued. “You meet a variety of people, and have the chance to learn about those beyond the family.”
Donohue feels that our academic institutions make us civilized. “There is a sense of tradition, of belonging to a community.”
Donohue also enjoys “getting to influence the influencers.” He continued, “I reach many more kids than if I was in the classroom.” He does, however, miss the dynamic conversations with kids that would take place throughout the day in his capacity as a teacher.
How did he become involved in the field of education?
Originally from the D.C. area, he felt as though he “coasted” through his high school years–school was just not something that he put a lot of energy into. It wasn’t until his undergraduate years at the University of Maryland that his interest in studies was awakened. Inspired by his coursework and some of his professors, Donohue pursued a degree in English. He didn’t stop there, however. Continuing his education, he earned a master’s degree in counseling from The George Washington University, and then a master’s in administration from Harvard. Ultimately, he attended Columbia University in New York and received a doctorate in administration.
Donohue, who lives on the Upper West Side, had been an English teacher, guidance counselor, assistant principal, and the director of guidance before serving as the Byram Hills High School principal for 11 years beginning in 1997. “It was a great time–the district was growing, there was a need for programming, and change…”
What would he like parents to know?
Donohue advises parents to make a connection with their child’s principal. The principal is the most important person to contact if there is an issue for a child. Having established a relationship with the principal beforehand, parents will feel more comfortable meeting again should challenging circumstances arise.
What is so special about the Byram Hills School District?
“The community and schools are so closely tied. Everyone from the superintendent to the teachers feels accountable to the community.” Donohue spoke of how everyone has worked to build a coherent system from top to bottom, as a team.
Armonk also has a very active “succession planning initiative.” According to Donohue, about half of the administrators in the district have come from within. As such, some administrators have given up tenure up to three times as they moved into higher positions, including the superintendent.
There is a culture of high expectations in Armonk. As such, the Board of Education has set in place a Five Year Renewable Tenure plan, ensuring that teachers maintain the high standards that are so valued in the district.
What does education look like going forward?
Technology is about to bloom in education, similarly to industry in the 80’s. There is a shift from teachers as information providers to helping students manage information and solve problems with it. Physical classrooms are becoming more dynamic, with students having access to information at any time and from other sources.
What would Donohue change about education if he could?
The current reform obsession. “It is a one size fits all method, with sizes often being determined by someone who hasn’t been inside a classroom since their own school days. This is careless, dangerous, and arrogant.”
Growth and change are part and parcel of a highly sought-after school district such as Byram Hills. With Donohue at the helm, the Byram Hills School District is in excellent hands.
Eileen Gallagher is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Inside Chappaqua and now Inside Armonk. The mother of a college junior and high school senior, and former teacher and PTA chairperson, she has a great deal of respect and admiration for those in the field of education.