Healy at Arena

Toms River Regional Schools Superintendent David Healy, standing in front of students at RWJBarnabas Health Arena in 2018, will retire Dec. 31 following a nearly seven-year tenure at the state’s sixth-largest school district.

UPDATE Dec. 14, 2020-- The Toms River Board of Education will vote this Wednesday, Dec. 16, on the prospect of requesting that Thomas Gialanella serve as interim superintendent of Toms River Regional Schools, as several local outlets have reported, following Superintendent David Healy's impending retirement Dec. 31. Revisit Mr. Healy's seven-year tenure at the district through the story below, originally published Sept. 17, 2020.

Superintendent’s Seven-Year Tenure Brought Stability, Great Success to District

Sept. 17, 2020-- Superintendent David M. Healy, who was hired in 2014 to take the helm at Toms River Regional Schools, has announced his retirement effective Jan. 1, 2021.

“It has been my sincere pleasure and distinct honor to lead what I consider to be the finest school district within the most child-centered school community in the state of New Jersey,” Healy said. “I have immense pride in what we’ve been able to accomplish, gratitude for the relationships and friendships that will last beyond my retirement, and confidence that Toms River Regional Schools is better positioned to confront the many challenges facing public school districts in New Jersey.”

The Toms River Board of Education was notified of Healy's decision Thursday morning.

“I must express my appreciation for the Toms River School Board and the members who have served throughout my tenure. They placed their trust and confidence in me and, throughout my time here, have provided the support necessary to achieve the many lofty goals we set for Toms River Schools.”

According to the board, that feeling is mutual.

“It is my sincere hope that Mr. Healy is as proud of his accomplishments with our Toms River Regional School District as I am to have worked with him to facilitate our community's collective goals,” said Board President Anna Polozzo. “As President of the Toms River Schools Board of Education, as a taxpayer, and a parent in our school district, I personally along with the entire Toms River Regional Schools Board of Education am very grateful for Superintendent David Healy's efforts for our community.”

There’s no doubt that the district has been trending upward since Healy’s hiring in 2014 after a tumultuous period marked by scandal, upheaval, discontent, and the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. In 2013, the Toms River Board of Education sought to capture the district’s most glaring needs by issuing a community-wide survey which would drive its search for a new superintendent, and stabilize a position which had cycled through four different leaders in a three-year span. The issues uncovered were many and major-- “crumbling” buildings, a considerable lack of public trust, and poor technological resources to name just a few. The non-negotiable attributes desired of a new superintendent gleaned from the survey included “integrity,” a “team builder,” and someone who was “student first” with a “deep understanding of teaching, learning, and curriculum.”

And the Survey Said? Read how Superintendent David Healy and his administration addressed the most pressing issues from the 2013 community-wide survey.

The board voted unanimously to hire Healy-- who had served previously as superintendent of Matawan-Aberdeen-- to lead the largest suburban school district in the state. That trust was rewarded in the ensuing years.

“Superintendent Healy and his team got to work with our Board of Education to help an angry community come to terms with the damage done,” said Polozzo. “He showed us the path forward, encouraged us that we could not only rise from adversity but thrive in the face of it and begin the journey back with hope, and restored faith in our shared mission to provide the students of Toms River Regional Schools with a world-class education.” (Read Polozzo's full statement here.)

Among the signature achievements that marked Healy’s tenure: the implementation of full-day kindergarten in 2015; Career Academies installed at each of the three high schools; a “high-performing district” designation by the New Jersey Department of Education in 2017 and 2020 (the district was unable to meet the criteria for this designation prior); earning the Certificate of Excellence for Financial Reporting six years straight; placement on the College Board’s 9th Annual AP® Honor Roll; being recognized as the “Distinguished Organization of the Year” by the Greater Toms River Chamber of Commerce in 2017; overseeing the procurement of more than $4 million in competitive grants (the district hired a full-time grant writer in 2016) and sponsorships, including naming rights for what is now RWJBarnabas Health Arena; and the implementation of the Energy Savings Improvement Program (ESIP) and passage of a bond referendum in 2019 which has led to more than $165 million in facilities improvements and upgrades throughout the district.

The installation of full-day K and the Rebuilding Our Schools Initiative-- which has included a cost-neutral, taxpayer-saving $17.8 million in ESIP projects, and which solidified the historic, voter-approved referendum-- are a particular source of pride for Healy. But so is the restoration of public trust which was necessary to achieve those goals, and the invaluable team with which he has worked during his tenure.

“Because we created a thorough and efficient recruitment and hiring practice, which has yielded nearly 900 of the most qualified and educated staff over the past six years, in combination with the many talented and dedicated staff members who have been a part of this district for many years, I’ve been so fortunate to have worked alongside the best people,” Healy said. “More than 90 percent of those new hires are from Toms River or Ocean County, which has maintained that symbiotic relationship between our students, staff, and this town. That spirit of family and sense of community is something we’ve worked hard to preserve.”

Healy also-- alongside Business Administrator William Doering-- became the face of the opposition to State Bill S2, passed in 2017 and which has and will continue to cost TRRS (and other NJ districts) millions of dollars in state aid funding. Under Healy’s leadership, the district organized several rallies in Trenton, testified before state legislators, helped direct the media’s focus toward the glaring flaws and inconsistencies within public education funding, and filed formal litigation against the State of New Jersey to correct the funding formula and restore fair funding for Toms River, similarly affected districts, and the hundreds of thousands of New Jersey students they represent.

“Dave’s leadership will be sorely missed,” said Doering, “but he’s done something that great leaders do: He’s positioned our district-- both fiscally and academically-- to be a positive force for years to come, and despite some very profound challenges that persist. It’s difficult to imagine where we’d be right now had the board gone in another direction in 2014. In fact, I’d rather not.”

Healy said he had strongly considered retiring at the end of the 2019-2020 school year, especially after his longtime colleagues, assistant superintendents Marc Natanagara and Deb McKenna, retired from public education. But he felt there was unfinished business, particularly in the context of the ongoing state aid fight and the Covid-19 pandemic’s impact on the end of last school year-- Healy had promised in-person graduations for secondary schools, a promise kept-- and the rollout of the 2020-2021 school year.

So, why now?

“It just feels right,” Healy said, “and I have complete confidence in the team we have assembled to continue our mission and fulfill the ongoing vision of this district.

“When you know, you know.”

It’s Healy’s goal that prior to his Jan. 1 departure, the district has returned to a blended-learning model or, ideally, full in-person instruction, a transition he’s committed to oversee and safely implement.