President, Harrisburg School Board
by M. Diane McCormick, Photography by Kelly Ann Shuler
Danielle Robinson, President, Harrisburg School Board
Living in a new city, married one year and five months pregnant, Danielle Robinson found herself immersed in a trial by fire when her husband suffered a car crash so serious that he had to learn to walk again.
She is, she learned, “a lot stronger than I thought.”
“What I thought was going to break me made me stronger,” she says. “Even now, I think I can get through things. You can’t cry over something that can’t be fixed.”
Twenty years later, Robinson now calls on those reserves of strength in her post as president of the Harrisburg School Board. She acquired the tough job suddenly in November 2015, after the unexpected resignation of then-President Jennifer Smallwood. Since then, she has brought to the post a unique blend of skilled administrator and active band mom.
Born and raised in Philadelphia, Robinson is a self-proclaimed “good little Catholic girl” who decided to broaden her horizons by transferring from a Catholic high school to a public school. She came to Harrisburg when her husband got a teaching job in the Harrisburg School District. She first ran for school board when the district was enduring administrative upheaval and turmoil, and her husband brought his frustration home every day.
“I can sit here and complain,” she told herself, “or I can get involved.”
Her daughter, now in college, was 14 when she entered high-school band. The first meeting of the booster club, suggested by then-City Council Member Sandra Reid, was attended by Reid, Robinson and the band director. Robinson started “slowly harassing people” and expanded the club as boosters realized they were having fun.
Like many of those original boosters, Robinson remains active even since her daughter’s graduation. She was – pardon the pun – instrumental in obtaining new uniforms that will debut in the fall 2016 season. All the band members call her “Mom.” Past and present members hang around at her house.
“It’s about them,” Robinson says. “I love seeing them grow. I see the fear, the apprehension when they first get there. We’re here to let them know it’s OK. When they start getting comfortable, you see them transition into confidence, and you see them teach the next group that comes in.”
Kids, she says, “will eventually rise to the expectation of the adult they know has their back no matter what. I’ve seen it.”
Though Robinson majored in sign-language interpretation at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, she now works as a government computer forensic analyst. She is a stalwart voice of frugality on the school board, always looking for the “least expensive but the best” options.
“Throwing money at something doesn’t make it the best,” she observes.
As board president, her job is diverting energies away from “people whose agendas are not in line with the district’s” and focusing on the question, “Is this in the best interests of our kids?”
Teachers, administration and board members must work together, she says. The district “didn’t get into this trouble overnight, so we weren’t going to get out of it overnight, either.”
“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t love this district or this community or these kids,” she says. “I’m here for the long haul. Even if I’m not a board member, I’m still going to be here in this district because my son’s only in the fifth grade. I’m going to be here for a while. I’m still going to be here for marching band. I’m still going to be here for the kids who need me.”
This article appears in the July 2016 issue of Harrisburg Magazine