After 30 years of accomplishments in education, Cape Supervisor of Elementary Education Donna Kolakowski is set to retire in September.
Kolakowski said she planned to retire in May, but then the pandemic hit. She said she didn’t feel right about leaving, so she offered to stay throughout the summer to be a resource for teachers, administrators and her eventual successor.
“I love teaching and serving my community,” Kolakowski said. “I am most proud of the consistency and collaboration that I helped develop so that every child has a similar educational experience, no matter which school they attend within the district.”
She began her career in 1989 at Smyrna Elementary, where she taught first, second and third grades for 10 years and was named Teacher of the Year her final year.
After she earned master’s degrees in instruction and in instructional technology, her assistant principal suggested she go into administration. Kolakowski said she had never considered that, but when a position opened overseeing the kindergarten program and Title 1 federal funding, she took it, and found she enjoyed working with students and teachers.
After earning her administrative certification, she was named assistant principal at Smyrna Elementary, then assistant principal at Cedar Lane Elementary in the Appoquinimink School District. When the Cedar Lane principal retired, she was named principal.
“That was an amazing experience that gave me the confidence to come to Cape,” she said. Kolakowski learned of the job opening at Cape through longtime friend Cathy Petitgout, who retired from the district in 2018. Kolakowski joined Cape in November 2012.
“I always wanted to move here,” she said. “My husband and I grew up in the Smyrna-Clayton area, and we used to vacation here, and Cape had a great reputation. I love curriculum and development, and thought I could support the principals.”
Among her accomplishments, Kolakowski said, was launching the Bookmobile, a repurposed van that travels to district neighborhoods to provide free books to children during the summer.
“It’s really rewarding to get as many books as possible in kids’ hands,” she said. “And, they get to see their teachers and principals in their communities in the summer.”
The program has grown over its eight years, Kolakowski said. A partnership with Browseabout Books allows Bookmobile volunteers to distribute new as well as gently used books, and other community groups have pitched in to provide meals for students as well.
Kolakowski said she is also proud of her work in bringing high-quality reading and math curriculum and instruction to Cape, specifically American Reading Company and Bridges Math, which are aligned with state standards.
“These materials have helped students gain a more conceptual understanding of mathematics and helped students become mathematical thinkers,” she said. “And, we have fostered a love of reading culture in our elementary schools.”
In 2017, Kolakowski received the Jean Martin Outstanding Leadership in Literacy Award for her dedication and hard work in promoting reading literacy and creating young readers.
Kolakowski said she isn’t yet sure what she’ll do after retiring; perhaps consulting or something to do with literacy, but she said she’s ready for her next challenge.
“I have loved every minute at Cape, and even though I don’t directly see the students and parents every day working at the district level, I know I’ve impacted more kids this way,” she said. “I have been honored to work with the people in this district. What’s best for kids is at the forefront of every decision made.”