MIDDLETOWN – It was Mary Ellen Walker’s dream when she started her career in the education field 25 years ago to become a teacher for the Middletown Township Public Schools.
Walker grew up in Middletown and wanted the opportunity to be a teacher in the community she has lived in her entire life.
She got a chance to be a student-teacher at Middletown South High School when she was working toward her master’s degree in teaching at Montclair State University, but ended up beginning her teaching career in the nearby Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District.
After several years spent teaching in Matawan-Aberdeen and then in the Freehold Regional High School District, Walker got a call from a teacher she had worked with at Middletown South who was then in an administrative position in Middletown.
The call led to the opportunity Walker had always dreamed of as she accepted a position to become a business teacher at Middletown North High School in early 1998.
Fast forward to the 2020-21 school year and Walker has risen through the administrative ranks of the school district, while raising three children who are Middletown graduates, to the position of superintendent of schools.
After working in administrative positions in the school district for 11 years, including as assistant superintendent, Walker was tapped by the Board of Education to succeed William George as superintendent. The promotion coincided with the start of the new academic year.
In a letter to the community, Walker wrote, “It is my pleasure to welcome you to the start of the 2020-21 school year as your new superintendent of schools.
“Although I have had the pleasure of getting to know many of you during my 22 years as a teacher and administrator in Middletown, I would like to take this opportunity to officially introduce myself and to express my gratitude toward this great district.
“As a lifelong resident of Middletown and a parent of three successful Middletown graduates, I feel deeply dedicated to the Middletown school community. Further, my professional experiences in the fields of finance and education have prepared me to lead our district in all areas of instruction, operations and business.
“I am committed to this district and I will passionately lead our school community to the attainment of our collective goals and to the realization of our collective vision,” she wrote.
Step by step, Walker moved up the ranks in the school district. She became a building adviser at Middletown South and was subsequently named the district’s human resources director.
Walker said her background in business helped her obtain the human resources position. She has a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a minor in accounting from Monmouth University, West Long Branch.
She earned a master’s degree in educational leadership from Georgian Court University, Lakewood, which helped lead to her being named district director 11 years ago.
After Walker had spent more than four years in the position, district administrators decided to change the title of the position to assistant superintendent since the job descriptions were the same, she said.
George spent nine years as Middletown’s superintendent and he and Walker had worked together in recent months to formulate a plan to reopen schools, which had been closed since March during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.
“It is important to recognize the immense efforts of so many people in the Middletown community (who helped to reopen the schools in September),” she wrote. “Our staff is very excited to welcome our students back into our classrooms, which is only possible as a result of the efforts of our school community members who worked on the Reopening Committee this summer, as well as the community members who are currently serving on our building-level Pandemic Response Teams.”
In an interview with the Independent, Walker said she is thankful for the staff members she has at the administration level, and for the hard work the administrators and all of the teachers in the district have done during the past few months that will help make the reopening plan a success.
“My job will be easier because of the staff I have around me,” Walker said. “We will be successful because of the hard work of our entire staff.”
Walker said since school began, she has visited several buildings to observe how in-person instruction was going. She said she was happy to see children back in school and interacting safely with their classmates and teachers.
Middletown parents had the option to select an all-remote instructional model for their children, or to select an option that included in-person attendance.
Even though everyone in each building was wearing a mask, Walker said you could see in people’s eyes how happy they were to be back in school.
Walker said administrators are hoping to reach the final phase of the multi-phase reopening plan in December, when all students would be able to attend classes in person five days a week.
“We are all ecstatic to be back in school,” she said. “The teachers and the students are happy to see each other. It’s great that the plan we worked hard on came to fruition.”
Walker acknowledged that with the coronavirus still present, this is a difficult time in education and she said she understands how important her responsibilities are in her new role.
She is very appreciative of the support she has received from her staff and the community since being named superintendent and said she hopes to continue to bring stability to the school district during these challenging times.
From achieving her dream of becoming a teacher in the school district to now becoming the leader of Middletown’s educational community, Walker is excited for her next journey and looking forward to what lies ahead.
“I am very excited for this opportunity,” she said. “I feel honored to take on this role during this difficult time and to have these responsibilities.”