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New Dougherty Valley High principal hits the ground running

Danny Hillman opens up about professional background, goals for new position

Dougherty Valley High School officially welcomed a new head administrator this month when Danny Hillman was named the third principal in school history.

"It's an amazing school. It's a great place to be, and I feel fortunate to be here," Hillman, 36, said of his hiring. "There's a thing in education called 'just a good fit.' And it just feels right."

A San Ramon resident and father of two, Hillman has worked at DVHS since the summer of 2012, starting out as an assistant principal.

He stepped into the principal's office on a temporary basis Sept. 25, with San Ramon Valley Unified School District Board of Education members appointing him interim principal while they searched for a permanent replacement for outgoing headman Jason Reimann.

Hillman applied for the full position and rose to the top during the hiring process.

"Our selection process includes the student, teacher, parent and staff voice from DVHS, and Danny's appointment was widely supported," SRVUSD Superintendent Mary Shelton said. "We are confident that he will lead this outstanding high school to even greater heights."

The Board of Education formally removed Hillman's interim tag during its Nov. 12 meeting in Danville.

"Leading a school like Dougherty Valley High is a big job. It is a high-achieving school that brings a unique set of challenges. Danny has the skills and vision to meet the needs of all students and prepare them for the world ahead," Board Clerk Denise Jennison said.

Raised in Fremont, Hillman graduated from American High School and attended De Anza College before completing his bachelor's degree at the University of California, Davis.

His subsequent professional experience took him across the Bay Area and around the United States.

Hillman entered the full-time employment in Sunnyvale, working in sales operations during the dot-com boom.

"I was getting paid a lot of money to not do a heck of a lot, which is pretty much what was happening at that time," he recalled. "Good job, but it was a cubicle job. And that wasn't my thing."

After about a year of commuting and sitting in an office, Hillman said he was ready for a career change.

And a new direction he certainly found.

The drummer for the rock band Tesla -- whom Hillman befriended during his college years -- offered the 20-something Hillman a roadie gig on the group's American tour.

Hillman accepted and spent a couple years as a drum technician and assistant stage manager with the famed Sacramento rockers.

"It was a lot of fun," he said of his touring days. "Tough way to live. Tough on family, tough on relationships, but definitely a good experience. Got to see the country in a completely different way."

The role in rock, Hillman said, helped him hone key organizational and customer-service skills he's relied on in the educational field.

"It was about knowing how to approach people and talk to them," he added. "It's all about the people: who you know, the connections. Not in a name-dropping sort of a way, but in an authentic (way), like 'yeah, I can get that done. Let me call this person.'"

When his time on the road ended, Hillman said he again found himself at a career crossroads. And a lifelong desire would soon provide an outlet.

"Well, I had always wanted to teach," he recalled. "And I had teachers who were still teaching at that point that had been telling me since I was in high school, 'you need to be a teacher. You'd be a great teacher.' And so finally I did it."

As Hillman worked to obtain his credential, he received his first teaching job in the SRVUSD as a social studies instructor at San Ramon Valley High School.

He then taught at Miramonte High School in Orinda before shifting to an administrative role with the San Leandro Unified School District, managing two grant programs.

Hillman continued transitioning positions and districts, serving as assistant principal at San Leandro High School and Alhambra High School in Martinez and then moving to the Martinez Unified School District to oversee its general obligation bond program.

But, as 2012 rolled around, Hillman said he was ready to return to a campus full-time and to find a job closer to his home in San Ramon and his young son and daughter.

He would apply for and receive an offer to become assistant principal at DVHS for the start of the 2012-13 school year. He remained in that position for a little more than a year before being named interim principal in September.

Hillman is taking the reins of a relatively new high school, with plenty of positive attributes but still facing potential growing pains.

Opened in 2007 in eastern San Ramon, DVHS is often recognized for the high achievements of its students, including well-regarded speech-and-debate and Model UN teams, strong music programs, improving sports squads and a 94-percent pass rate on last year's Advanced Placement exams.

"We want to take what we have and we want to make it better -- that is the mantra," Hillman said.

The new principal lauded the community spirit he said DVHS staff members exemplify every day.

"They are committed. They are dedicated. They come to the sporting events, and they bring their families," he said. "This is truly what makes this school unique is that the staff is of a collective mind that they want to always improve."

The support and focus of his staff will be key in the coming years, according to Hillman, as DVHS continues to grow.

The school's student population this year is about 2,400, up nearly 7 percent from the previous year. With large middle school classes and new housing developments on their way, school officials only expect those numbers to rise.

"We're projected to get up near, and maybe even above, 3,000 students over the next five years, incrementally growing," Hillman stated. "So keeping the focus and keeping everyone together is going to be one of our challenges."

And he said he is ready to lead DVHS through the daunting growth period.

"I'm not planning on going anywhere anytime soon, so for me, I'm in it for the long haul," he added. "I want to take what we already have, analyze it and see how I can improve, what added value can I give."

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