School of Ed's Mary Heath Showcased in Union Leader

Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Union Leader

By Dan O'Brien

HOOKSETT -- Mary Sullivan Heath, the recently-hired dean of Southern New Hampshire University's School of Education, may not have realized at the start of her career that her hard work would help lay the groundwork for professional women.

"I often didn't do it on purpose. It was more because of my students," Heath said. "I wanted things to be better for them."

Heath, 63, a lifelong Manchester resident, served as deputy commissioner for the N.H. Department of Education before arriving at SNHU in July. She's held many administrative positions in the academic world, but she says her career really started in 1970 as a fourth-grade teacher at the Gossler Park School in Manchester.

"When I first started teaching, I had two little children," Heath said. "If I had another child, I wouldn't have been able to continue teaching. You couldn't be pregnant and be a teacher. That's how different it was back then."

Heath continued working as a teacher at elementary and high schools in Manchester for the next 18 years. But during that time, Heath's work focused more on the needs of disadvantaged students, and she helped create the first special education program at Memorial High School in 1978.

"Before the legislation on special education, I was troubled by students in my class who seemed to be really smart, but weren't succeeding," Heath said.

She obtained a master's degree in special education that year, which is why the principal at Memorial High chose her to help draft the SPED program, she said. As the next few years went by, Heath not only worked as a teacher but helped draft financial grant proposals on behalf of the school district.

That was something above and beyond what most teachers did, and not everyone was pleased.

"When I started writing grants and when (former Manchester schools superintendent) Dr. (Eugene) Ross asked me to start running programs, my male counterparts didn't like that very much," she said. "They often resented, I think, that he had picked a woman versus a man. That was a little bit difficult. But, you know, you do your job, you work a little bit longer and you work a little bit, well, not a little bit harder, sometimes you work a lot harder."

Heath would go on to obtain a second master's degree in adult and vocational education from the University of New Hampshire at Durham in 1987 and a Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study in administration from UNH Durham in 1989.

Heath's first-hand experience with special education launched her into prominent administrative roles in the field. In 1990, she became the director of federal projects for the Manchester school district and an education consultant for the state Department of Education from 1996 to 1998.

Heath speaks fondly of a two-year period beginning in 1994 when she worked as a research associate for RMC Research Corporation in Portsmouth -- a job that took her around the country meeting other educators and examining educational systems in different states.

Heath served as assistant superintendent for SAU 19, which serves Goffstown, Dunbarton and New Boston. She held that job from 1998 to 2003. After bouts of adjunct professorships and two attempts at retirement, Heath was asked to apply for, and later appointed deputy commissioner of the N.H. Department of Education in 2005.

Heath says that because being a woman forced her to work harder, she was especially grateful to achieve her goals.
"I think now more than ever before, women are seeing their potential as leaders in educational communities," Heath said. "I see so many now who do such a great job."

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