The hallways and offices of Mahwah’s Board of Education building will be a bit different next school year, as a familiar face who district officials say has been an “integral” part of Mahwah schools for the past quarter-century has announced her decision to move on from Mahwah.
Assistant Superintendent Janet Donohue announced at a Board of Education meeting earlier this month that she will be retiring at the end of the school year after 27 years working in Mahwah, and 38 years working in education.
“I have such mixed emotions about leaving,” Donohue said in an interview last week.
“It reminds me of when I was a principal, I used to write a back-to-school letter at the end of each summer. You felt sadness about the end of summer, and missing those memories, but also excitement about the new year and what was ahead. I feel like that now.”
Members of the Board of Education certainly do not have mixed emotions about Donohue’s retirement – they are sad to see her go. Though all members wished her well, some even voted against her petition for retirement, saying the gesture showed how important a part of the district Donohue has been.
“I’ve had the pleasure of serving on this board for a long time, and Janet has been a big part of that,” Board member John Dolan said.
“People like you come along once in a long while,” he told Donohue at the meeting.
“You’ve put so much effort into this district, and the results speak for themselves.”
Superintendent Lauren Schoen called Donohue an “ace at what she does.”
After working in Cliffside Park for 12 years, Donohue came to Mahwah in 1987 as a high school English teacher. In 1994, she became the assistant principal at the high school, and in 1995, the MHS principal.
Donohue said she did not initially apply for the position, but was prompted by then-Superintendent Murray Blueglass.
“I ended up loving the position,” she said.
“I think what I was really able to do there was change the social structure and culture of the school. I really wanted it to be a place where differences were not only tolerated but embraced, and everyone felt respected,” Donohue said. She noted that one of her first acts as principal was ending the hazing of freshman at pep rally.
“It was a little tough at the time, there was a lot of pushback from students,” she said.
“But, everyone ended up coming on board.”
In 2002, Donohue approached Blueglass saying she wanted to be the principal that opened the new Lenape Meadows elementary school, her first foray into elementary education.
“I was really excited to come in and make something unique,” she said.
Donohue called her two-and-a-half years as Lenape principal “one of the best experiences” to prepare her for working in the district’s central office because it gave her a “real understanding of and appreciation for what the elementary teachers and administrators do.”
In 2005, then-Superintendent Charles Montesano prompted Donohue to apply to an open Assistant Superintendent position, and in January of that year she made the switch to her current role.
“I was excited and challenged by each job that I held in the district,” Donohue said.
“I never really sought out new positions, the opportunities presented themselves to me. And I am so, so grateful for that. I’ve really been blessed.”
She also spoke highly of the Board, the Superintendents she’s worked with, the teachers, staff members, paraprofessionals, secretaries, custodians, and all members of the school community.
“Everyone here is really, truly interested in what’s best for children, and it’s amazing. We are all kind of part of one another, so when I leave, I will be taking them all with me,” she said.
As for plans for her retirement, Donohue said nothing is set in stone, other than spending more time with her two grandchildren and the rest of her family.
“It’s time for me. Initially, I was a bit nervous about what my retirement would be, but I’m not anymore,” she said. “I’m excited to see where it will take me and how it will unfold.”