Kavanagh says goodbye to WA


Kavya Desikan

Kavya Desikan, Print Managing Editor

After 33 years of teaching, US History teacher Donna Kavanagh will be concluding her career in education at the end of this 2018-2019 school year.

Kavanagh’s journey into education began through substitute teaching at her mother’s school after she finished her undergraduate degree at Clark University, where she studied political science and history. After having the opportunity to take a long-term substitute teaching job teaching high school students history, Kavanagh decided to become a teacher.

“I really liked working with the students and I knew that I wasn’t a great teacher then, but I knew that the kids related to me fairly well,” said Kavanagh.

Unlike many teachers, Kavanagh did not teach in many other schools in her career. After a brief stint at a different school for around six months at the beginning of her career, Kavanagh realized that staying at Westford Academy was something she wanted to do.

“Some people like to jump around jobs a lot, but I found a job I really liked,” said Kavanagh.

Kavanagh credits her staying at WA so long to the environment the school has. She as enjoyed the culture within the staff and the relationship they’ve had with administration.

Within the staff of the Social Studies department at Westford Academy, Kavanagh is one of the most experienced and has served as a guide to many who work in the department. One person who vouches for Kavanagh’s guidance and wisdom is curriculum coordinator Adam Ingano, who filled the position roughly two years ago.

“She’s taken great care of me to make sure I do my job right,” said Ingano, “She knows everything. Every time I would hit a dead end of a question mark in my job, I would go and ask her. She would have an answer for me, she would have an email for me, a folder to hand me. It is amazing,” Ingano said.

Looking at the year ahead, there will have to be changes to the department to accommodate Kavanagh’s departure, which Ingano also reflected on.

“It’s gonna be tough [without her] because she was such a big part of the department, being at the core of these few experienced teachers we have for so many of the younger teachers,” Ingano said.

As a teacher with 33 years of experience, it is expected that there be some evolution in how they teach and the philosophy by which they teach, and Kavanaugh is no exception to that. She noted that with the introduction of technology and the internet into the classroom many changes have been made to teaching today. However, according to Kavanagh, one of the biggest lessons she has learned about teaching was from her students themselves.

“When I redesigned [my AP course] into the seminar-style course, what I learned was that when I opened up my classroom for them to offer more in the discussion format, [I saw] the astounding ability of these kids to think and process information given the chance to work with more mature information. I learned that yes, I do talk a lot because I am a teacher, but the value of listening to the students and not just imparting knowledge on them, [I learned to] stop and hear what they had to say,” Kavanagh said.

Westford Academy teacher Rebecca Ingerslev will always remember her experience in Kavanagh’s classroom.

“Being a student in Mrs. Kavanagh’s class inspired me to want to be a teacher myself.  She was funny, incredibly smart, had high expectations for us, and created assignments that helped us to really understand the materials.  Her class was the first history class I had where we sat in a circle and discussed primary sources; I felt incredibly well-educated,” Ingerslev said.

Looking ahead to her retirement, Kavanagh expressed great excitement in being able to take things slow.

“While travel is nice, and I will travel, I’m excited to spend time with my daughter who has just moved back home and the rest of my family. I like to do simple things. I like to exercise, I like to cook, I like to read a lot, something which I don’t get the chance to do during the school year. I really just want to spend time with those little pleasures,” she said.

The support which Kavanagh has always provided her students is something which is always mentioned in tandem with her name. No matter who is asked about Kavanagh, it seems as though the relationship she has built with her classes is one which both fosters academic and personal success.

“I feel like what I’ve seen just in her classes is this real level of rigor and high expectations, but delivered in such a calm and caring manner that [makes it feel] like it’s not a lot of work and it’s real tough. [It’s because] of how she supports her students and how she cares for them,” Ingano said.

For Ingerslev, Kavanaugh has served as a support system which has been there for her far-past her time in the classroom.

“She was one of the first teachers I ever knew to have a baby and continue to teach; as a result, she’s been a real source of comfort and advice to me and other female teachers who are in the same situation […] Mrs. Kavanagh has been making an incredible mark on Westford Academy since 1986, and will continue to leave a mark far into the future.  The Class of 1992 will always love our dear advisor, all of the student-teachers she mentored have taken the lessons they learned and applied their to her own class,” Ingerslev said.

While Kavanagh herself was unsure of what her mark will be on Westford Academy, it is clear that her colleagues and students have seen all that Kavanagh’s mark on WA is undeniable.

“I said in my resignation letter that I hope I have contributed something meaningful. I have worked very hard, and I hope that I have given my students the best of me and taught them the value of American history [and that] we’re all a part of it,” she said.