#CeaselessDevotion: Danielle Nordyke P ’14
When Danielle Nordyke was in high school, she thought she wanted to be an English teacher. Life took her in different directions, but as she says, “it feels like it was meant to be” when she found her way to Mercersburg. Today, she’s the director of human resources at the Academy, and that’s just part of the important role she now plays as Mercersburg navigates its way through the global coronavirus pandemic.
Nordyke came to Mercersburg 16 years ago when she saw an advertisement for the HR position in a newspaper. She is part of a three-person department, supporting 250 employees during the school year (350 during the months when Mercersburg Summer Programs take place). When she first started, there were only about 20 HR professionals in the Association of Business Officers of Preparatory Schools (of which Mercersburg is a part), and to support one another, the 20 individuals would gather twice a year at what they began calling the HR Forum for Independent Schools.
“I am one of the original members of that, and I still remain on the planning committee,” she says. The group has now grown to include 65 schools, both boarding and day, and they include schools up and down the Eastern Seaboard from Maine to Florida. As with everywhere else right now, the focus has shifted to the pandemic. For their most recent meeting in January, the group met virtually and focused solely on employee support during this unusual time.
“If you talk to people who have been doing HR work for a really long time,” she says, “they will speak about the transactional work that we do: enrolling people in benefits, getting people recruited, making sure everyone is paid and pay increases are correct, doing performance evaluations. [It can be] very transactional, but the strategic work is where you really make a difference.”
“My day-to-day is not the same as it was prior to March 13,” says Nordyke, “and the biggest part of that is all of my grand ideas of programs and projects and strategic vision for the department has shifted from the standard HR areas of expertise—training and development, employee relations, benefits and compensation. What’s the best in the industry in terms of benefit offerings, what else is out there in terms of supporting people in financial literacy, and how can we develop a feedback-for-growth program that best supports our employees? Those are some of the programs I had on my list of things to do last March. All of those things are on the backburner right now because COVID-19 has me just really focused on a lot of policy and a lot of processes.”
As Mercersburg shifted to virtual learning last spring, supported employees as they worked from home over the summer, and planned for how to bring students back to school safely in the fall, Nordyke has been a key player in helping to make and execute these decisions. She and her staff, for instance, went through the Johns Hopkins Contact Tracing Program so that they could learn how to be contact tracers for Mercersburg’s employees. “Not one day has gone by since March where I am not talking to someone about a symptom that they are experiencing or a contact they may have had or a potential contact they think they could possibly be having,” she says. “Helping supervisors navigate that with their employees, helping the campus develop and adhere to the One Mercersburg Promise [to do their part to keep the community safe]—that has been a lot of my focus.”
The shift to living with the pandemic and helping Mercersburg navigate the way forward has been like a second job on top of Nordyke’s HR responsibilities, but she is no stranger to hard work. “I am a veteran of the Air National Guard,” she says, “and when I go back and think about my work ethic, it certainly came from my family, but the military also instilled teamwork in me. You cannot survive without your fellow airmen working alongside you. Having the camaraderie and devotion to the military's mighty task is similar to the mighty task of working at the Academy.”
For Nordyke, Mercersburg is also a family affair. Her daughter, Madison ’14, is an alum, and her husband, Brian, is the director of facilities on campus. “For me, I can never give back to the school what it has given to me and my family. So, I think that’s what the ceaseless devotion is for me. I have never thought that the task was too mighty. I’ve always felt that our mission is so important and that I can help spread the word of what independent schools can do for our next generation, just as Mercersburg did for my daughter. I’m so grateful to have been able to do the hard work at a place that I absolutely believe in the way I believe in Mercersburg.”
When Nordyke thinks about a future that no longer includes the pandemic, she knows she will reflect on this current time period with pride, and she’s certain the school will be able to hold onto the good lessons we have learned during this time. “I am proud of the culture we have already and that we continue to sustain, so when I look back,” she says, “I’m going to be proud of us as a community of people who cared so much about the education of our kids that we found a way to go virtual in the spring in a matter of days, and then we were able to have on-campus learning in the fall. And that we supported each other if someone was struggling or that we could be flexible to families who needed it when they didn’t have childcare or if they just needed a break from some of their duties. That, to me, is what human resources is all about. It is all about your people and how you support them, and I am very proud of how we have done that throughout COVID-19.”