by Dakota Antelman
When Danica Johnston entered the University of Southern Maine (USM), she knew she wanted to do one thing — play varsity sports at the college level. Forced to pick a major, she chose business.
Fourteen years later, Johnston sits as Hudson High School’s new assistant principal, a position vastly different from any of business jobs she sought fresh out of college less than a decade ago.
Johnston was a star high school athlete growing up in Bridgton, Maine. Her play attracted the attention of college scouts, eventually earning her a spot on the Stonehill College soccer and softball teams. Though she was a talented athlete, Johnston struggled to decide on a major, and, by extension, a career to enter after college.
“Out of high school, all that I knew was that I wanted to play soccer or basketball in college,” she said. “That was really my motivation. I picked Stonehill first to play soccer there. My father is a businessman. He majored in business and engineering, so he got to travel a lot with his job. I thought that was interesting, so that’s what I majored in.”
After transferring from Stonehill to USM to avoid excessive student loan debt, Johnston graduated with a degree in business. That degree quickly helped her land a job in sales and trading. After starting work, however, she found herself feeling unfulfilled.
“I absolutely hated it,” she said. “It was a horrible world to be in. I shouldn’t say horrible, but nothing made me happy about going to work. I made a lot of money, but it wasn’t worth it.”
So, after her brief stint in the working world, Johnston went back to school. She obtained a masters degree in secondary education from Worcester State. Two years later, in 2016, she started work on a second masters degree, in educational leadership and administration, at Endicott College.
For Johnston, administration was a happy marriage of her business experience and her passion for education.
“I really always wanted to do the administrative piece because it’s kind of the business management piece where you have an impact on what goes on behind the scenes, but then you also get to work with kids and students,” she explained.
Johnston climbed quickly through the education world. She coached two junior varsity sports and taught math for a year in Lunenburg. She then secured a job as a math teacher in Littleton and rose to the rank of math curriculum director for grades five through 12 before she left the district this spring.
She left Littleton after Hudson announced in early June that longtime Assistant Principal Josh Otlin would be leaving the district. Otlin, a Milford native, became an assistant principal in his own town but only did so in late May, leaving Hudson with little time to find his successor.
Before hiring Johnston, the Hudson Public Schools impaneled committees of students, teachers and parents to interview finalists in the final weeks of the 2016-2017 school year.
Doing so was no easy task according to Principal Brian Reagan.
“For an assistant principal, I want to get as many professionals in the building to interact with the candidates as possible,” he said. “That’s why when the process is truncated like it was, you need to work hard to get it all to happen in that short period of time.”
The district announced they had chosen Johnston on June 23. She started work in Hudson eight days later, on July 1.
For Reagan, Johnston’s comfort with students in her conversations during the student panel discussion set her apart from other contenders for the position.
“When she was in the room with 25 or so students, there was a table that she could have sat at but she stood; she walked over [to the students]; she engaged with the students who were asking questions; she asked good questions back,” he said. “It seemed to be more of a dialogue than an interview, which I found to be a positive strength.”
He added that, since starting in Hudson, Johnston has continued to display this strength.
“She’s interacting very well with kids,” Reagan said. “She seems to have a nice rapport with them.”
Though she has not spent her entire career working with students, Johnston has spent it adapting.
As she works at her desk in Hudson, a plaque from her days on the USM soccer team hangs over her shoulder in her office. That plaque serves as a reminder of a different time in her career. Indeed, Johnston celebrates her ability to adapt as her career progresses.
She first adapted to work in the business world after years of success as an athlete. Then she adapted from business jobs to education jobs. Now, she’s adapting again — from her former jobs in Lunenburg and Littleton to her current one in Hudson.
“I learn several new things every single day; the most difficult piece is that things are run very differently at every different school,” she said. “At Littleton it was very different. At Hudson it’s very different. So every circumstance is a new experience for me.”