For Donna Hataway, the Coffee County School System has been like her family for much longer in her life than not, but the 2019-2020 school year will be her final year after she officially retires this summer.
Hataway has worked under eight different superintendents in her four decades in the school system and said that she has mixed emotions about retirement.
“It’s a mixture of emotions,” she emphasized. “It’s exciting but when you’ve worked somewhere for 41 years it’s kind of sad, too.
“This has been like my baby for 41 years. You’re here longer than you see your family some days.”
Hataway grew up in Elba and graduated from Kinston before attending Enterprise State Community College. While attending ESCC she got her first job as a civil service temp at Fort Rucker.
Just two days after her Fort Rucker job ended, Hataway said that Johnny Vaughn and Roger Bowden of Coffee County Schools came to her home after her high school business teacher recommended her.
“They told my mom that if I was interested (in a job) to come to the office immediately,” Hataway said. “I started working that day and am still working 41 years later.
“The Lord knew I was going to be without a job and I think sometimes He has a plan for you even when you don’t know it yet.”
Hataway started out as a receptionist and office clerk in 1979 before eventually becoming the superintendent’s secretary. It’s under that title that Hataway has worn many hats.
“It’s probably not what someone would think that the superintendent’s secretary does but at a small school system like ours everyone here has to handle lots of different things,” she said. “I’ve handled instructional supply for all the teachers in the past, I handle all the property insurance for the school system, things for the state department, different reports and directories and student hearings.”
Hataway said that she’s seen the frequency of new superintendents come and go over the last few years increase as the stress of the job has increased.
“I think it’s been a trend for the entire state but the superintendent used to stay for like 10 years and the way things have evolved – it’s such a huge job and a huge responsibility – they just don’t stay as long anymore,” she said. “I know it’s a lot of stress, especially the last few years, and it’s a lot different from when I started. Everything was a lot calmer then and you didn’t have some of the same kind of situations and problems like you’d have the last several years.”
One of the memories of her time at Coffee County Schools that stands out most was the aftermath of Elba’s 1990 flood. At the time the central office resided in the old Elba Church of Christ building – at what is now Moseley Studios – in downtown Elba.
“That was something you just never think would happen,” Hataway remembered. “To get back to the office we had to be approved by the National Guard just to get into town and then had to get shots from the health department before going in.
“We saw chairs that were on top of cabinets and the carpet was all washed up. You didn’t know if you moved something if a snake from the river was going to be in there.”
The central office moved into the old Warren G. Smith School building in New Brockton and Hataway said that employees resorted to hanging paperwork up on a chain link fence to dry it out to salvage as much as possible.
“How do you move forward from that?” Hataway questioned. “Everybody just pulled together and you made sure everything got done.”
Hataway said that working with everyone at Coffee County Schools has been more like working with family members than coworkers over the years.
“I can truly said I was blessed,” Hataway said. “I love my job and I probably wouldn’t have been here 41 years if I hadn’t. I worked with some wonderful superintendents, I couldn’t have asked for better people than the board members I’ve worked with and everyone in the office gets along so well.
“Some of us even take a beach trip once a year and we go to plays and go out to eat. It’s a friendship and relationships, not just getting up to go to work everyday. It’s just enjoyable.”
The question for Hataway now was what does she do with her time? Hataway and her husband – Malcolm – have two sons together named Avery and Bradley. They now also have three grandchildren by the name of Emma, Marley and Abby. Those grandchildren will take up her time now.
“We have three granddaughters and I’m planning on spending more time with them,” Hataway excitedly said. “One of them is a one-year old and I want to keep her during the week and also we want to do some more traveling and things like that. I’m just really excited.”