Millstone superintendent of schools to retire this year

Mary Anne Donahue looks back on 13 years of service


After over a decade of working in the Millstone Township School District, Superintendent of Schools Mary Anne Donahue has decided to retire.

“To keep working to the end — that’s my goal.” — Mary Anne Donahue superintendent “To keep working to the end — that’s my goal.” — Mary Anne Donahue superintendent Donahue, whose retirement will go into effect Aug. 31, said her decision to leave came at the request of her family. Her husband, Bob, who had worked in real estate for 30 years, retired three years ago and would like for them to spend more time together and with their family.

“I initially plan to spend more time with him,” she said, noting they enjoy traveling, fishing, golfing and visiting their three children and eight grandchildren spread out across the United States in New Jersey, New Hampshire and Oregon.

Because Donahue can’t see herself completely withdrawing from her passion, education, she would like to eventually continue teaching as an adjunct professor at Georgian Court University’s graduate school of education.

The Spring Lake resident started working in the Millstone Township School District as the director of curriculum and instruction in August 1997. Two years later she took responsibility as the assistant superintendent of schools until 2006 when the Board of Education voted her in to the superintendent position. As the superintendent, she has worn many hats, including serving as the director of special services since 2001 and supervisor of personnel, technology and the performing arts center.

In the early days of her 13 years of service in the school district, Donahue focused on curriculum and staff development. She developed and implemented a mentoring program for new teachers and staff.

“My passion is education, not only of students but of teachers, in order to provide the greatest education possible in Millstone,” Donahue said.

She also oversaw the district’s continuing upgrades in technology.

“With technology we have made great strides,” Donahue said. “We have gone from a district that didn’t have a website to a district where everyone uses technology every day.”

The latest technological improvements include developing a list serve and moving forward with implementing Power School, software that will help the district provide parents online access to student grades.

Her guidance in the expansion of special services has provided for the education of more special needs students in-district. Under her watch, the district added selfcontained classes, trained staff to provide students with individual education plans (IEPs) and started developing a self-contained classroom for autistic students at the primary school to better meet the needs of the 14 percent of students identified as having special education requirements. Donahue has also been working on implementing Response To Intervention (RTI), a program that uses data to identify regular education students with special academic needs in order for the district to provide means to address those needs.

In personnel, Donahue streamlined the hiring process and recordkeeping. She also continuously documented and reviewed staff progress to ensure the district retained high-quality educators. This year, she also aided the district in developing professional learning communities, groups of teachers and administrators that meet on a regular basis to discuss new ideas and research to create common goals and focus in their areas of education.

During the last four years, she supervised the opening of the new middle school and performing arts center. She also played a key role in ensuring that the programming and rental of the auditorium continued to generate revenue for the school district. Over the years, she has also taken part in growing the community education program from two technology courses in 1999 to a year-round schedule of courses for students, parents and residents of the community.

The Board of Education has started the process of finding Donahue’s replacement. She said that person has to be prepared for taking on multiple roles.

“We are not a district that has the financial luxury to have a lot of support staff,” Donahue said.

Thorough knowledge of special education and special education laws are also essential for the superintendent of a district that does not have a director of special services, she said.

“Given the economic times and the economic state of New Jersey, it’s also going to be essential for someone to come in looking for ways to bring additional revenue into the district and to work with other districts to consolidate services,” Donahue said.

The new superintendent will also have to keep abreast of new data and the most recent research in education to study and implement the best programs for students and staff. He/she will also have to communicate with taxpayers about the importance of passing school budgets, according to Donahue.

Donahue also said that the district faces another financial dilemma in receiving less state aid than other districts because of its high performance and high socioeconomic status. She said she would like to see the state distribute education funding equally, with all districts getting the same amount of state aid per student, with any remaining aid being distributed for special needs.

When aid continues to decrease and budgets continue to fail, staffing and programs are cut, which directly affects anyone in the position of superintendent. Donahue has had to try to continuously come up with means of generating revenue, such as creating a class for autistic children that could draw tuition students from other districts and taking charge of renting the performing arts center to outside groups when failing budgets precluded the district from hiring a professional to run the performing arts center.

“It was something I was willing to take on,” she said, noting that the work she put into the auditorium had to be done outside of the school day.

Despite the dilemmas and hardships she has had to face, Donahue said taking the superintendent position was everything that she thought it would be.

“It is a position that is very enjoyable and very demanding,” she said. “When I first came to Millstone in 1997, I fell in love with the district, the possibilities, the people, the students, the staff. That’s why this decision was very hard. There’s still so much that can be done. Despite the challenges, it is a district of great people. It’s a perfect way to end my career — here. The past 13 years truthfully have been my best in education.”

Donahue said she would greatly miss her students and staff and the opportunities to create more for the district.

Business Administrator Bernard Biesiada, who has worked with Donahue for nearly three years, said, “It has been a pleasure! Mary Anne was kind, warm and always had an open door for me, staff, students and members of the community no matter what the topic. I feel as though I have gained a friend by working with her.”

Biesiada said Donahue always respected his opinion and hard work.

“When Mary Anne was most difficult to work with was when they were predicting snow, and we were on the phone at 4 o’clock in the morning, and I had to convince her it was snowing in Millstone, as she lived by the shore and it typically always rained down there,” he said.

Before she leaves the district in six months, Donahue plans to make sure the new program for autistic students gets well under way, the administration has a clear vision of where the district’s going with the RTI program, talks continue about the consolidating services with neighboring school districts, and all schools are ready to open smoothly come September.

“To keep working to the end — that’s my goal,” Donahue said.