TAPinto Westfield Profile: Get to Know Margaret Dolan, Superintendent of Schools

Dr. Margaret Dolan is the first woman to serve Westfield as superintendent of schools. Credits: Westfield Public Schools

WESTFIELD, NJ — Dr. Margaret Dolan, the first woman to serve Westfield as superintendent of schools, assumed that  responsibility 11 years ago when she stepped into that role at the end of Dr. William Foley’s reign.

Foley gave a ringing endorsement of his successor.

“Margaret Dolan is first and foremost a great educator who, in whatever position she has held, has always been fully committed to children. She’ll never hesitate to do what she feels is best for them,” he said. “Westfield schools are indeed fortunate to have such an outstanding superintendent.”

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Before becoming superintendent, Dolan was assistant superintendent for human resources from 2001-2005 and then curriculum and instruction from 2005-2007.

With more than 30 years of experience in all phases of education, Dolan first served Westfield as principal of Franklin School from 1996 to 2001. But before administrative positions, the Jersey City native taught music in Bayonne, Irvington and Scotch Plains public schools in the 70s and 80s. Also an accomplished pianist and harpist, she has given private instruction in both instruments.  

“I love one-on-one,” she said. “Each student presents an individual challenge.”

And she welcomes challenges.

“Westfield is very fortunate to have her as superintendent,” Gail Cassidy, former president of the board of education, said.  “We rarely see any negatives in the press regarding her decisions. Why?  Because she listens, she is objective and she is open to new ideas. What more could we ask?”

Sitting in her cheerful corner office in the original Westfield High School (1951 was the last graduating class before the Dorian Road location opened), Dolan was accompanied by Mary Ann McGann, who was then three weeks into her position as coordinator of school and community relations.

“I'm here to learn more about Dr. Dolan,” McGann said.  So were we.

Margaret Dolan, Ed.D, earned her B.A. in Music Education from Rutgers, Douglass College, and her doctorate in Educational Administration from Rutgers Graduate School of Education. She also attended advanced learning conferences at Harvard, Columbia and Seton Hall in recent years

While the educator has been immersed in her demanding position, her husband, Rich Lamb, has his own demanding schedule. Known as “the dean of reporters” at WCBS NewsRadio 880, he just celebrated his 40th anniversary with the station last month, covering everything from City Hall to news around the globe.

To serve the approximately 6,300 students attending Westfield’s K-12 classes, Dolan's responsibilities include overseeing a $100 million budget; hiring, firing and managing a staff of over 800; and providing a comprehensive education to all students to reach their maximum potential. In that regard, she said that 95 percent of Westfield students pursue a higher education.  

As superintendent, she is also responsible for student safety.

Just after last month's shootings at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, Dolan introduced a security presentation by contractor Errol Brudner from StoneGate Associates, the firm hired by the Westfield school district, at a board of education meeting.

“We know every parent has to be touched by the shootings,” Dolan acknowledged for this interview. “We know that the world of schools had changed since Columbine and Newtown. We already had new procedures in place before the latest shooting. We’ve changed access to schools with the installation of security cameras and panic buttons which immediately alert staff and the PD.

“We are working with law enforcement at the local, county and state levels, also with the FBI as well as security consultants,” she continued. “Now we have specific drills for lockdowns, active shooter drills and how to shelter in place. Everything is done in conjunction with the experts to make sure everyone is on the same page.”

She explained that schools were closed recently for two days so that teachers, counselors, special eucation and staff members could participate in discussions on topics related to professional development. They also touched on wellness issues, which she described as “an important topic in our society,”  as well as the development of new teacher webpages.  She promised that when school opens in September, “We'll have a new website.”

Despite the harsh realities schools across the nation face, Dolan said, “I’m encouraged to see 6-year-olds still excited about learning. They love their teachers and they’re especially enthusiastic about science projects.”

She spoke about a new innovative “inquiry method” appropriate to science for elementary students that’s designed to stimulate the learning process. When they are presented with a science experiment, children are encouraged to describe what they have observed and to ask pertinent questions. This interactive exploration aids in the retention of subject matter, she said.

Connecting with parents is also very important to Dolan, which she said is what inspired her to write a letter to parents in the wake of the recent school shooting, assuring them that Westfield schools are making every effort to strengthen safety precautions to keep students as safe and to provide helpful resources when dealing with the emotional issues related to the recent tragedy.

In recent weeks, Dolan joined with Mayor Shelley Brindle, Town Administrator Jim Gildea, School Business Administrator Dana Sullivan, BOE President Gretchan Ohlig, and BOE Vice President Peggy Oster to share concerns and suggestions for coordination between the schools, town, police and town council to address school safety issues and communication protocols.

Though there’s been violence elsewhere in the nation, Dolan has an overall optimistic outlook:  “Our students are still going to change the world. We have to continue to have that hopeful expectation.”

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