DASD names O’Donnell as new Superintendent

Robert J. O’Donnell

DOWNINGTOWN — The Downingtown Area School District (DASD) Board of Directors unanimously approved the appointment of Dr. Robert O’Donnell as its next superintendent of schools, Monday.

“Our community asked for a strong leader, a good listener and an experienced superintendent,” said LeeAnn Wisdom, president of the DASD Board of Directors. “The board wanted to find a person of integrity, compassion and strong leadership skills. We believe we have found all of these qualities in Dr. O’Donnell.”

For the last eleven years, O’Donnell served as superintendent of the State College Area School District (SCASD). Under his direction, State College Area High School students have placed within the top 5% of more than 650 Pennsylvania high schools on the SATs. Annually, SCASD schools rank among the state’s finest in academic performance, and students routinely receive state and national recognition in various subjects and activities. The district also excels in athletics and is annually honored as one of the nation’s best communities for music education.

“I am grateful to the Downingtown Area School District’s Board of Directors for entrusting me to lead this stellar school district and am looking forward to joining its leadership team,” commented O’Donnell. “My approach to leadership centers around building trusting relationships to bring people together and strengthen community ties, which enhances learning experiences for all of our students and staff.”

O’Donnell’s dedication to students includes the following district accomplishments: expansion of integrated mental health services; development of a School Climate/Inclusive Excellence Policy, including a new director of equity and inclusivity to help foster more equitable experiences for students and staff; restructured K-12 school start times, including secondary start times at 8:40 a.m.; implementing K-12 professional learning communities in support of faculty development; building three new elementary schools; and obtaining community approval of $85 million bond referendum to help fund the construction of a new $142 million State College High School campus.

“His accomplishments speak for themselves. His career thus far has been one of stewardship and innovation, and we are very excited to welcome him and his family into our DASD community,” stated Wisdom.

Beyond State College Area School District, O’Donnell serves as a member of the Keystone Center for Charter Change advisory board, Penn State University’s Outreach and Online Education advisory board and as the chairman of the Board of Directors for the Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County.

Prior to coming to State College, O’Donnell served as assistant superintendent in the Hempfield School District, a high school principal in the Manheim Township School District and a high school math and computer science teacher in the Warwick School District.

O’Donnell received his undergraduate degrees in mathematics and secondary education from Shippensburg University and his master’s degree and a doctorate in educational leadership from Lehigh University. He and his wife, Lori, have three children.

The district received 22 applications for the position from a diverse candidate pool of superintendents, assistant superintendents and lifelong educators. Eight highly qualified candidates were invited for a first-round interview; three advanced to second-round interviews of those eight candidates. O’Donnell was chosen for the third and final round of interviews, and the Board conducted a thorough reference and background check as part of the process.

During the past two months, the Board completed rigorous interviews to determine the degree of fit between the community’s criteria and the candidate’s professional experiences. The interview process included in-depth questions developed from an analysis of stakeholder priorities gathered through focus groups and a survey to parents, staff and the community at large. Submission of an entry plan and a detailed presentation to address the district’s most pressing issues were also key components of the interview process.

The criteria established through community engagement and the ideas brought forth by the candidates themselves lead to the selection of O’Donnell as Downingtown Area School District’s next superintendent.

“The high-quality learning experiences have been built over time by many wonderful educators, and I’m honored to serve with the Downingtown staff, leadership team and board of directors,” O’Donnell adds.

O’Donnell will be replacing Dr. Emilie Lonardi, who has been serving as the superintendent since July of 2017. O’Donnell is expected to begin his duties as superintendent at Downingtown Area School District on July 1, 2022.

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