WILMINGTON – After 23 years at Holy Ghost Prep in Bensalem, Pa., Jeffrey Danilak decided it was time for a new adventure in his career in education. He has switched his administrative duties to an all-girls school instead of all-boys, becoming the principal of Ursuline Academy’s Upper School in July.
But Danilak said at their core, the girls are not much different from his students at Holy Ghost, where he was principal for seven years after serving as dean of students and as a teacher.
“They’re kids, and kids need a safe place to learn, and you’re trying to empower them and so forth,” he said recently at Ursuline. “The biggest difference for me — it’s a silly one — my first week, the opening days, they had an assembly, and the girls had a ton of energy. They were loud. In an all-boys school, you’re lucky if the guys have their ties on. The energy level was a little bit different, but other than that, they’re kids.
“They need support. They want to learn. They need a place where people care about them, and they have opportunities to do really neat things.”
Those opportunities are part of what drew him to Ursuline. During his application process, he said he found good people and good programs at the school, such as the global-education initiative. In his first month with the students back in class, he has seen how supportive the faculty and extended school community are of the girls. And, despite its small size, he has been impressed with Ursuline’s extracurriculars, such as athletics, arts and service.
“You have the parents and the alums. It’s a recipe for a really good place,” he said.
Then, there are the students themselves. “The girls are extremely confident, well-spoken, very inquisitive. They are all-around solid kids. What they do in and out of the classroom is impressive.”
Danilak has a few things he wants to focus on early in his tenure. He wants all of the students to have the opportunity to participate in the global program. Having the chance to study and serve elsewhere is “a game-changer,” he said.
Another is the “innovation mindset.” Ursuline has a partnership with 1313 Innovation in Wilmington, and he wants that to grow.
“Building that is really important. I think there are a lot of unknowns about where these kids are going to be after college and beyond. So to get them into situations where they’re problem-solvers, where they network with other people, coming up with solutions, being resilient, those are some important skill sets that they need,” he said.
He also wants to make sure the curriculum is evolving with the times. It’s easy to get stuck in a traditional curriculum, he said, so he wants to stress creative thinking, collaboration and communication in the 21st century.
Danilak was born in northeast Philadelphia and grew up there and in Bucks County, Pa. He graduated from La Salle University and received his master’s degree from George Washington University. He and his wife, have two college-aged daughters, Julia and Paige. The family is in the process of moving from Berks County, Pa., to Wilmington.
He is a beach person and will visit New Jersey, Delaware or Maryland to find a good stretch of sand. In addition, he is a fan of live music and is looking forward to checking out some of the venues in Wilmington.