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From Biology Teacher Major to Superintendent: A Path of Dedication and Inquiry

When Lisa Dana started her career in education, proposition 2½ had just passed in Massachusetts limiting property taxes and causing a shortage in available teaching positions. She applied for a position teaching science at Danvers’ Dunn Middle School but learned she would need additional licensure for the role since she had a degree in biology and secondary education. One of Lisa’s professors from Salem State, Frank Sullivan, stepped in and worked with Danvers Public Schools to make sure she got the licensure she needed.

That was the beginning of a career dedicated to education, and a story that would continue over the next 30 years.

Finding Her Way to Salem State

The oldest of three daughters, Lisa attended Lynn Classical High School and graduated as valedictorian of her class in 1984. She enrolled in Emmanuel College in Boston, but soon realized it wasn’t the right fit for her.  She missed being close to home. She transferred to Salem State as a commuter student in the biology program.

“I have very clear memories of commuting from Lynn to Salem State in the snow,” she recalled with a smile, “and the challenge of trying to find a parking space.”

At first, Lisa thought she might want to use her biology degree to work in a lab. But during a work-study experience she realized that she wanted to work with people.

“For me, it’s all about being with people,” she said.

The Start of a Career Dedicated to Education

Several years into her career as a science teacher, Lisa returned to school for her master’s degree at UMass Lowell. There, one of her professors encouraged her to continue with her doctorate.

“At that point, one of my mentors in the Danvers school system encouraged me to apply for the assistant superintendent position,” she said. “I held that role for one year, and in 2004 I was hired as superintendent.”

Today, Lisa has served as Danvers’ school superintendent for 15 years and has worked in the Danvers Public Schools for 25 years. She is one of the longest-standing superintendents among Massachusetts public school districts. She oversees more than 3,600 students and 270 teachers across seven schools.

“I thought I would be a high school biology teacher, but 30 years later and here I am a superintendent,” she said.

Reflecting back on how her education at Salem State prepared her for her career, Lisa explained, “It’s not as much about the content of the coursework as it is about the process of inquiry. In my role now, approaching with inquiry gets people to really look at a situation with an open mind and focus on solutions.”

The Connection Between SSU and Danvers Schools

Lisa has maintained a close relationship with Salem State throughout her career. She returned to campus last year to teach a graduate class for students working toward their administrator’s licenses, and she has championed strong support of SSU’s fellowship program for education students.

“We’ve partnered with Salem State on many programs over the years, but I think very highly of the current 4+1 fellowship program,” she said.

Started in 2018, Salem State’s 4+1 fellowship program is a combined bachelors and master’s elementary education degree program that places students in paid, full-time practicum positions in a school during their final graduate year.

Danvers is growing its SSU fellowship program from three fellows last year to eight fellows for the 2019-2020 school year.

“Salem State has a strong local reputation for training educators,” Lisa said. “Many Danvers High graduates will go to Salem State. We have two Danvers grads who have returned to the district this year to work as fellows from SSU. The fellow working at our Riverside Elementary School – that was her elementary school.”

Lisa explained that the strengths of the fellowship program are that fellows can practice and apply their classroom learning in a comprehensive role. Fellows start work on the district’s opening day alongside all other faculty and staff and participate in the full year of planning and development.

The Power of Your Words

“When I was a student [at Salem State], a professor or advisor would tell me, ‘You need to take this next course,’ and ‘You should go for your master’s degree.’ They gave me ideas for what to strive for and helped me see the path in front of me.”

Looking back now, Lisa said, that taught her the important lesson that educators may never know the true impact of their influence and the power of their words.

“Both are meaningful and important for the people you interact with every day.”

Alumni Relations
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