Teacher Donnelley to put down chalk in 2016

Longtime teacher David Donnelley recently announced his retirement from Sonoma Valley High School. The popular economics instructor will grade his final papers in June of 2016.

While his skill as a teacher is well known by the students he has taught over the past two decades, his unique background is unknown to many.

Donnelley came of age in 1960s, serving as a commanding officer in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War, and taking a bullet in combat.

That near-death experience at the age of 23 catapulted him into a life of service. He says he knew back then that he wanted to do something purposeful with his life.

After he left the military in 1968, he taught at the Thacher School in Ojai, (Ventura County) and went on to become the co-founder and director of the School of Arts & Sciences in San Anselmo, a secondary school that conducted research on teaching, curriculum and administrative models for public secondary schools. He also taught at Novato High School for three years.

In 1975, he and a business partner launched a biotech company, beginning a 13-year run in the health industry working with an algae called spirulina. With the growth of spirulina, a single cell algae that stimulates the immune system, they were able to combat malnutrition in adults and children living in underdeveloped countries. They cultivated the largest algae farm in the world. In 1988, the company was bought by Dai Nippon.

Today, you can find spirulina in drinks like Odwalla and Naked, and in dietary supplements found in most health food and grocery stores.

After working in the business industry for nearly two decades, Donnelley returned to his first love: teaching. He holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Dartmouth College and a master’s degree from Dominican College. Since 1993, Donnelley has taught world history, civics, American history and, currently, economics full time at SVHS. He served on the SVHS Design Committee to incorporate A-G graduation requirements and the engineering, design and technology academy into the curriculum. He has also served on the high school’s Technology Committee for more than 15 years.

More recently, he has played an instrumental role supporting the local implementation of Common Core State Standards, which are intended to promote critical thinking and writing across the curriculum.

Over the course of 20 years as a teacher at SVHS, Donnelley has seen many positive changes take hold.

“For one, I’ve seen a greater diversity of students taking AP and Honors courses due to open enrollment policy,” says Donnelley. “And I’ve watched the success of AVID, a program which supports student learning.” He also applauds an increased “student awareness on the importance of a college degree and increased use of technology in the classroom.”

He says he’s witnessed first-hand the benefits of increased community involvement and support of public schools through organizations like the Education Foundation, and Boys and Girls Clubs, Sonoma Teaching Project and more.

But with these positive changes, challenges remain. Donnelley says there is still a need to bring Sonoma Valley students up to grade level in math and language arts – especially in elementary school – as well as develop a more effective working relationship between teachers, administrators and parents in order for each student’s needs to be met.

For Donnelley, it’s the students who matter most, every single one of them. With a deep-rooted belief in their potential, he says he strives to positively effect and impact their lives each and every day. He says that he loves to “make them laugh, learn from them… give them candy on a bad day.”

Senior Nick Sperry currently is enrolled in Donnelley’s economics class and has known him for years.

“He’s one of the few teachers who will respect you, go out of his way to satisfy the student’s needs,” says Sperry. “He always makes it a goal to promote a sense of success in each student. He’s funny, enthusiastic and keeps you interested.”

A father of six and grandfather of four, Donnelley knows the importance of a good role model. He has left a lasting impression on more than 7,000 students during his teaching career.

“I like how he is always willing to help someone no matter what the circumstances are, and he does everything with such a big heart,” says senior Shelby Camilleri.

With only a year left at the high school, Donnelley has one more goal to accomplish: To have the technology necessary in every district classroom in order to implement Common Core and to prepare students for the 21st century.

With June 2016 just around the corner, his departure will be bittersweet.

For those following in his footsteps as teacher, mentor or friend, he offers some words of wisdom:

“Try something new. Don’t be afraid to take risks. Be defined by what you do for others, more than what you do for yourself.”

• • •

Monica Dashwood is a SVHS parent and freelance writer.

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