2013-05-16 / Schools

Memorial School principal reflects on 47 years in district

BY NICOLE ANTONUCCI
Staff Writer


Ronald Danielson Ronald Danielson Ronald Danielson has been waking up for the first day of school every September since he was 5 years old. For the past 47 years, he has been stuck in middle school.

It’s not because he failed all his classes and couldn’t graduate. Rather, Danielson loved school so much that he wanted to stay — as a teacher.

“I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a teacher,” Danielson said.

“As early as my elementary school years, I was conducting ‘classes’ in my basement, which was complete with a blackboard and chalk. I would gather whatever kids were in the neighborhood to be my students.”

From those early years, Danielson never wavered in his profession of choice. He graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a degree in secondary education. In September 1966, he joined the faculty at Memorial Middle School in Eatontown to teach social studies and language arts to seventhand eighth-grade students.

However, his role as a teacher was short-lived, as he unexpectedly fell into the role of principal six years later.

“There was a change here, and the superintendent needed someone to fill in during the transition,” Danielson said.

“As time went on, things were working out. So rather than bring someone in from the outside, they decided to stick with me. I have been in that role for the past 41 years and in the same school. I never left from the day I walked in.”

In June, Danielson will roam the hallways for the last time, officially saying “goodbye” to Memorial Middle School before transitioning into retirement.

“It’s definitely going to be hard to leave after 47 years, but it’s time,” he said.

During a career spanning nearly five decades, Danielson has witnessed the evolution in education from stricter state mandates and a demanding curriculum to societal trends that have taken education to a new level.

“Technology has revolutionized not only our society, but the entire educational system as well,” he said.

“When I started out as a teacher, the only tools that I had were a textbook, pens, pencils and a chalkboard. Today, the resources are limitless. Every child has a cell phone or iPhone. There is instant communication, and websites can be used for educational purposes.”

At the same time, some things have been lost in the process, he said, adding that children no longer use books to do research, and in some schools, students aren’t even taught cursive writing.

“It’s a lost art,” Danielson said, adding that curriculum has also changed significantly over the years to have more of an emphasis on test scores, formulas and growth models.

“I am becoming more and more frustrated and disillusioned with the direction education is heading,” Danielson said.

“I believe a lot of the art and heart have been taken out of education and replaced with test after test and one demand after another, which have little impact on the educational process.”

Despite his frustration, Danielson said he has enjoyed his career and recalled several high points, including the school’s 50th anniversary in 2006. Memorial School was built in 1956, only 10 years before Danielson began his career in Eatontown.

Other notable moments include attending 41 consecutive Italian fundraising dinners, as well as 45 consecutive eighth-grade trips to Washington, D.C., captured in a hallway collection of photographs of 45 eighth-grade classes standing in front of the White House.

Further down the hall, through the double doors, is another reminder of Danielson’s mark on the school — the new media center, which was named after the principal in 2008.

There are too many memories to name, but Danielson will never forget his students, who have not forgotten him.

“Since I have been at Memorial School for so long, I have had two generations of students. I still hear from students going back to my teaching years, and it is very rewarding knowing that they still remember me, that I had an impact on their lives,” Danielson said.

“It is also very rewarding and often interesting to have students who are the children of former students.”

For those who will follow in his footsteps, Danielson has some advice.

“Whoever takes this job — or any job in education — has to remember that even though they may get distracted with the number of regulations and requirements and testing, our primary focus is the students, their growth, their character development and their education,” he said.

“My job may be important, but the most important job in the educational process is the teacher in the classroom and the one-onone relationship they have with their students.”

While his tenure is coming to an end, Danielson said he is mindful of where it began: as a student, sitting at a desk in a classroom, looking up at his own teachers.

“I have many of my own teachers whom I still remember for the impact they had — not only on my education, but on my personal and character development. They helped shape me,” he said.

“I hope I have lived up to their expectations of me, and that in some way I have done for my students what they did for me.”

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