Catching up with Hillview principal Danielle O’Brien

by Linda Hubbard on April 5, 2023

Danielle O’Brien was named Hillview Middle School principal last month after serving as interim principal during the past school year. She came to Hillview in 2011 as a humanities teacher after serving as a teacher and Activities Director in Humboldt county. She was promoted to Assistant Principal in 2014 having also served as Activities Director at Hillview. In 2018, Danielle was promoted to Associate Principal where she supervised curriculum, instruction, technology, and assessment and led mission-critical programs such as the 1:1 iPad program, Hillview’s transition to evidence-based grading, and COVID response. We recently interviewed her.

InMenlo: What called you to be an educator?.

Danielle: I started out as business major in college. I worked at a grade school camp and loved working with kids. That made me realize I didn’t want to work in business. Ended up finishing college at Humboldt State.

I feel lucky every day working with middle school kids and teachers. I’m 100% a middle school person.

InMenlo: What was the nicest surprise about coming to Hillview?

Danielle: I was hired in June and started in August. The thing that struck me right away was that after teaching classes, all the kids say thank you. That still happens!

InMenlo: And the biggest challenge?

Danielle: Ensuring that all students, staff and families feel valued, connected and inspired. We’ve been working on that a lot because middle school is a time when kids start seeking identity outside of their parents and teachers. We believe our middle school should be at the center of our community.

Another challenge has been middle school behavior downtown. Going to and from school is school — it’s part of school day. We work with local law enforcement. We talk about it on Hot Talk. We write notes to families about it. Families also impact what happens to and from school. We all want kids to be safe.

InMenlo: Do you have a favorite book?
Danielle: Dare to Lead was incredible and inspiring. I listened to it in my car on my commute from the City and back.

My favorite book of all time is Pride and Prejudice. I read it first as a student and
re-read it every year. The classics give you window into the world.

And I really enjoyed Season of the Witch by David Talbot. I knew every street corner!

InMenlo: I understand you enjoy scuba diving. Do you have a best experience?

Danielle: I’ve been diving for 15 years and have completed around 210 dives. I started doing with my dad. I love being in the ocean.

When I just got certified I saw all the cool stuff near Palau in the south Pacific, including giant clams that were as wide as table and tall as a recliner. Watching them open and close was amazing.

Photo by Robb Most (c) 2023

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