Waterloo High School Principal Brad Donner can’t imagine what remote instruction would have looked like 23 years ago, when he hired for the position.
“There’s been a lot of technology changes; back then we didn’t have (digital) devices for each student – we would have been in dire straights,” he said, before lauding the students, district staff, school board and local families for working through the constant fluctuations due to COVID-19.
The principal had never imagined that during his time as an administrator, he would be leading a school through a pandemic.
However, the days of overseeing the freshman through senior Pirates will be ending for Donner as he prepares for his final day on Jan. 22. The Waterloo School Board approved his mid-year retirement a few months ago.
It was actually COVID-19 that kept Donner employed by the district through the first semester of this year. According to Superintendent Brian Henning, the pair discussed the pros and cons of when the best time for Donner to retire would be and decided it would be beneficial to have a veteran administration team in place at the start of the school year.
“Mr. Donner always wanted to leave the district in a good place,” Henning said.
In total, Donner has worked in education for 40 years, with more than half in Waterloo. He’s served as an administrator during his entire time in the local district, first as a 7-12 principal and later just serving the high school students; Donner also had the added tasks as the athletic director for several years.
“Overall, it’s been a very enjoyable experience,” he said.
With more than two decades at the helm of the high school, Donner has started to see a second generation of students in the halls where their parents had once walked.
“I’ve seen a lot of students come and go during my years here,” he said.
Under Donner’s leadership, the high school has undergone two building projects including the construction of the fieldhouse; he’s seen the educator effectiveness model for evaluating staff put in place and was witness to multiple changes in the way technology has been used in learning.
“I believe the community, staff, and students will miss Mr. Donner a great deal. There is no doubt that Mr. Donner was tough on kids and had high expectations for their behavior, but the students also knew he cared about them a great deal and wanted them to be successful adults after graduation,” Henning said.
“I think that people far too often forget that school is a place for children to learn academics, but it is also a place where children learn how to become respectable adults and that does not just happen on its own… Mr. Donner understood this role as a principal well and was firm yet caring in his position,” the superintendent said. “Mr. Donner has so many contributions that will benefit the District and community for years to come. Mr. Donner's work with students will benefit those that had him as a principal for a lifetime.”
During his final months as the principal, Donner has been working with PreK-8 Principal Shawn Bartelt, who will shift to the high school principal position.
“This way I could mentor Mr. Bartelt and work with him to provide a seamless transition,” Donner said.
The long-time principal is confident Bartelt will do well in the position and knows he will be working with people who have a long history in the district, including Donner’s wife, Teresa Donner, who has worked in the high school office for 29 years.
Donner has no concrete plans on how he’ll spend his retirement. He’d like to go fishing and hunting more often, spend time up north, and spend time with his grandchildren.
The soon-to-be-retired principal does know he’ll miss the relationships he has built with colleagues while leading the Waterloo High School.
“The bonds you build with people are the most important part of this position,” Donner said. “Overall, it has been a very enjoyable experience working with the students and entire community.”