Katherine Makela Calling It a Career at Dunfee School

Jun 15, 2018
Supplied Photo

As the school year wraps up this month, so will the career of Katherine Makela, who is retiring as principal of the Lillian Dunfee Elementary School after 12 years at the helm.

“While I am looking forward to spending more time with my family and the recent addition of grandchildren, it is bittersweet leaving the place I love and have called home for the past 37 years,” said Makela, 58.

She began her career as a first-grade teacher when the building was known as the Barnegat Boulevard Elementary School.

“In 2001, I became the ELA (English/Language Arts) coordinator/supervisor before being named principal of the Dunfee School in 2006,” she said. “The Barnegat Township School District allowed me to grow professionally and return full circle to the very elementary school I began my career all those years ago as a young teacher eager to make a difference in the lives of children.”

Makela said she has worked closely with “outstanding teachers, support staff and administrators.”

“Collectively, we have worked together to meet the social, emotional and academic needs of all students while ensuring they met their fullest potential,” she said. “It is so rewarding to see the successes of the many students I had the honor of teaching or serving as their school leader. Some have even returned back to the district to teach while others are now parents of children at Dunfee. The Lillian M. Dunfee School is a special place to learn and work and will always remain close to my heart. Needless to say, I am grateful for the positive relationships I have forged with students, parents, staff members, my colleagues and the community.”

She said of all her accomplishments, she is most proud of instituting the ROAR (Respectful Optimistic Awesome Achievers Responsible) program. In 2013, it was selected to receive a “Best Practice Award” by the Committee on Teaching About the United Nations for its positive behavior support in schools program.

“It supports positive behavior in schools and emphasizes character education,” said Makela. “It fosters school connectedness by building consistent behaviors in all school settings, thus maximizing instructional time. Behavior expectations are created in September and reinforced throughout the school year.”

Makela said a student could be recognized for a simple act of kindness, from opening a door for a person to helping another student with his or her work. She said a student who receives recognition gets a ticket that is placed into a grade-level mailbox, and drawings for prizes are held Fridays.

“They might go home with a Dunfee pennant or pens and pencils,” she said. “We also have bumper stickers, T-shirts, magnets and book bag tags. We want responsible behavior to be part of the education process.”

District Superintendent Karen Wood said Makela’s focus was prioritizing student needs above all else.

“She and her highly trained staff established a loving, nurturing environment where every student’s individual needs were met,” she said. “Mrs. Makela also implemented many successful programs and initiatives over the years. The partnerships she has established with community members are reflected in a strong PTA with parents and volunteers who care deeply about their school. She will be missed. The Dunfee School and the district won’t be the same without her.”

Brian Latwis, who will be replacing Wood as superintendent July 1, added, “Her building is beautiful, staff were always cared for, and her love for her students is tangible. Personally, Kathy was more than just a colleague … she is a friend. We all looked up to her veteran leadership. She was never too busy to provide guidance or lend a hand to a colleague. We are all going to miss seeing her positive demeanor and warm smile in the district. We all wish her well in this next, exciting chapter of her and her family’s life.”

Scott Sarno, board of education president, said she was “phenomenal and did an outstanding job.”

“She was our go-to principal on numerous occasions,” said Sarno. “She sat in with us when we were looking to hire a new superintendent. We valued her expertise in a lot of areas.”

— Eric Englund


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