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Debbie Donovan, administrator of student programs, Boise School District

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When Debbie Donovan moved from teaching to administration, it made her sad.

Debbie Donovan. Photo by Pete Grady.

Debbie Donovan. Photo by Pete Grady.

“At first, it was a hard transition,” says Donovan, who became a principal after almost two decades of teaching in the Independent School District of Boise City. “Being with kids is so amazing and rewarding, and you see the changes daily. When you’re an administrator, you’re with kids, but not every day in a one-on-one interaction. You’re working with parents and community members and teachers. So, I was grieving that interaction with the students.”

Still, as principal, Donovan found a way to interact with the students. For instance, at Garfield Elementary, she developed a partnership with BUGS (Boise Urban Garden School), Whole Foods Market and the Junior League of Boise to develop an outdoor garden for students and the community. It even included a Whole Foods’ “Day of Service” to help build the outdoor garden for Garfield.

On the other hand, moving into administration also helped Donovan to work with more students. “It’s rewarding because I’m making a great impact on the students,” she says. But it was another wrench when she moved to her current job as administrator of student programs, because she would
no longer be physically housed in a school. “At first it was difficult, but I soon found that decisions I could lead and change would impact not just one school, but throughout the district,” she says.

In Donovan’s current position, she supervises the curriculum for K-12 education, including implementing Idaho Core Standards. “So that would be math, science, English, all the curriculums,” she explains. In addition, she is responsible for professional development in the district, helping teachers deliver the instruction.

“Throughout my career, in my various roles, reaching those students who struggle academically or emotionally in our schools continues to be my greatest personal and professional accomplishment,” Donovan says. And that has been her focus, “as I have transitioned from teacher, to principal, and now to my new position as Administrator of Student Programs.”

The biggest challenge with the Boise School District is its size, with 50 school sites. “It’s a huge district,” she says. “Getting everyone on board and following the same path can be difficult.” The solution she’s found is communication, such as delivering messages, as much as possible, face-to-face.

In addition to her job, Donovan is a board member of the Boise Public Schools Foundation, which fundraises in the community and where she is co-chair of the Grants Committee. “I’ve been part of that since I was a teacher,” she says. She also presents to a variety of groups ranging from parent- teacher organizations to community groups such as the Rotary, to keep them informed about what’s going on in the district as well.

An advocate for “kindness matters,” Donovan believes kindness should be shown “in all we do,” and that an effective leader is one that shows that leadership through actions as well as words.

And Donovan hasn’t gotten out of schools completely. “Because I had relationships with so many teachers and kids I make it a point to work in schools with teachers, and attend professional development,” she says. “I’m out there with them, not just leading from afar. It’s helped me personally, but it also helped the program be as successful as it is.

“People are more receptive when you’re right in there with them doing the work. Even though I’m in an office away from the schools, I’m right there with them along the way.”

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