ABSECON — After a 41-year career in education, Absecon School District Superintendent Theresa DeFranco is calling it a career, retiring from the district where she started as a third-grade teacher.
At the most recent Board of Education meeting, President Tom Grites presented DeFranco with a plaque recognizing her service. And while DeFranco served as Absecon’s superintendent for only four years, her retirement caps a career that saw her serve as a third- and sixth-grade teacher in the district, among other roles, then moving on to become a dean at Atlantic Cape Community College before finally returning home.
The retirement is bittersweet for DeFranco, who said her time in Absecon has been nothing but a pleasure.
“I’ve got mixed feelings. The school district has been great to me,” DeFranco said, adding the decision to retire came after a discussion with her husband about their ideas for their shared future. “They’ve been very supportive. I’ll miss the people I’ve worked with and the children, but I look forward to spending time with my family.”
DeFranco’s time in Absecon was largely spent navigating the district’s budget woes. Absecon is often recognized as the most underfunded school district in the state. Large portions of its budget are earmarked for high school tuitions in other school districts and as a result the district has been forced to make tough decisions regarding its spending.
Her efforts have not gone overlooked.
“In the four years she’s been here she’s been excellent in bringing the district up to compliance, meeting all of the standards, managing personnel in creative ways and constructing a budget that stays under the cap,” Grites said. “She’s got the district on track.”
Grites said that when DeFranco entered the position four years ago, she developed a five-year strategic plan that has helped guide the district through difficult decisions. She also self-evaluates more than any person he’s met, Grites said, promoting an ethic of personal responsibility that he’d like to see continued.
To that end, the board has hired a new superintendent to continue the positive path set out by DeFranco.
Replacing DeFranco as the district’s superintendent is Dan Dooley, who most recently served as superintendent of Commercial Township, Cumberland County, School District. Dooley’s hiring spares the district an interruption in its most crucial administrative position.
The district is not without its own challenges, he said, noting that one of his first tasks is finding a new principal for Attales Middle School, a position that has seen four principals — interim and permanent — come and go over nearly as many years.
He’s confident, however, that with the support from staff he’s experienced in his short tenure thus far, continuing on he’ll be able to manage any issues he’s confronted with.
“One of the richest resources I’ve noticed is the people,” he said. “Between the board and the staff and everything they bring to the table, it’s something you can’t buy.”
Though she’s leaving, DeFranco said she’s promised to make herself available to Dooley to aid in the transition should he seek assistance.
“My door’s always open,” she said.