James Donnelly is ready to get to work in Granville once he can just find some place to live.
“I’m excited to get into the district, meet the community and really learn. My first job in Granville is to learn and to ask questions. At the same time, I’ve already met with the assistant principal Dan (Poucher) and Mark (Bessen) we’ve already started the discussion about some of the things that have to go on before September,” Donnelly said.
First things first, Donnelly said he’s been working with local real estate agents trying to find a rental home for himself, his wife Joanne and Molly, their golden retriever.
With a son and a daughter out in the working world, a daughter a college junior and a son spending his senior year of high school as a college freshman Donnelly said he can visualize a crowded house for the holidays.
The former National Principal of the Year said Friday by phone he’s working to get the details of the family side of the transition worked out, but plans to start in the district July 25 readying for the new school year which begins Sept.6.
Donnelly said his first order of business is to keep education moving forward in Granville.
“My goal in coming into the district is really to support the good work that has already been done there. I’ve heard great things about the faculty and staff; I’ve heard great things about the kids,” he said.
Donnelly said his first impressions of Granville have been positive despite meeting just a few people in a short amount of time.
“The buildings here are impeccable, the investment that the community has made in their schools certainly reflects well on them. So when I came in and saw the community, saw the schools and saw what was going on I was very encouraged; it’s a jewel of an opportunity to get back involved with working with students and faculty,” Donnelly said.
As a former class president and three-sport athlete Donnelly said he thinks high school years are the hardest years of anyone’s life. “I had a lot of fun in high school but I wouldn’t want to repeat it,” he said.
“Our kids are being confronted by so many things today and I think the school should be a safe place, a welcoming, warm environment balanced against the fact that we’re comparing them for a very competitive world,” Donnelly said. Ultimately, Donnelly said he thinks a good high school balances academic rigors with being comfortable and welcoming.
“It’s our job to prepare our children to leave school and be able to compete in a very competitive world, that being said it’s my belief that the most important thing that happens in school happens in the classroom. Number one, students need to be supported and understand that what we’re doing in the classroom is to prepare them to be successful and competitive when they leave Granville. Instruction and having fun are fine but at the same time being serious about what happens here in the classroom is important and that is the focus of our attention in school,” Donnelly said.
That’s not to say athletics or other extracurriculars fall to the side with Donnelly. He said he wants to give students an opportunity to excel in many areas because it’s to their advantage to be well rounded from chorus, band or dram club to the athletic fields. As a former athlete and coach, Donnelly said he’ll be around the sports teams as well as the other activities. “You’ll see me at almost every home game,” he said.
With an agreement unlike previous interims, Donnelly can throw his hat in the ring for the high school principal job when it is opened up, district officials said.
The district plans to conduct a search similar to the one which brought in former principal Scott Bojanich, Superintendent Mark Bessen or former superintendent Dan Teplesky.
Asked if he can see himself as more than interim principal, Donnelly said: “Absolutely. If things work out well and things are going well for both the district and myself, that’s certainly a possibility; that hasn’t been officially discussed yet, but certainly we would consider that.”
Donnelly resigned from Lake Placid after just one year. It was, he said, the result of a bad fit.
A career in education almost did not happen, Donnelly said. “I graduated a semester early from Colgate and I needed to pick up some cash for grad school or law school so I started substituting,” Donnelly said.
After summers spent working with kids at summer camps when in high school and while going to college, it gradually became clear to Donnelly this was what he wanted to do, not become a lawyer.
“I just came to the conclusion that I just really liked kids. And that was the fateful decision – it seems like yesterday,” he said. Working with kids is something that remains a driving force in his life and is the thing that spurred accepting the Granville offer.
“I think perhaps, maybe that’s – I wouldn’t say it’s my calling – perhaps it is, I don’t know, but its something that I cherish and I enjoy,” he said.