Dr. Fitzgerald began his career in education in Maryland in 1978 as a Social Studies and English teacher. After 13 years in the classroom, Dr. Fitzgerald moved to Delaware, becoming Caesar Rodney High School’s assistant principal until 1998, then principal until 2007 when he was selected as superintendent.
Dr. Fitzgerald and his wife, Linda, reside in Camden. They have three daughters, all graduates of Caesar Rodney High School.
“So why did you want to become a superintendent?” I guess I should’ve expected that question. After all, it was Career Day at one of my elementary schools. Still, the question surprised me. I had gotten used to trying to explain to eight-year-olds what a superintendent did, or why it was important to get an education, and that it really was my voice on the phone giving them a snow day! I responded, without giving it much thought, by saying I had become a superintendent to help them. Needless to say, the quizzical look on his face and on the other children’s faces led me to believe that unless I gave them a snow day, they weren’t sure how I was helping them.
Now, before I could explain my answer, the children’s attention turned to the parent dressed as a fireman. This turned out to be a much more exciting presentation. Yes, I was off the hook, but I don’t think I had convinced anyone to become a superintendent. Later that day, as I answered emails and signed letters, I thought about my answer and my journey to the superintendency.
My educational journey began on what many would consider the wrong path. At an early age, I was shy and introverted. I had a speech impediment, or at least that’s what I was told. Unless you’re told otherwise, you think you sound normal. Still children can be cruel, especially when they are not corrected. So, when my classmates laughed when I said certain words, I decided to just be quiet. Unfortunately, the parochial school I attended in New York City had no speech therapists, and the concept of differentiated instruction was decades away. Teachers just didn’t know how to reach me.
I was labeled as a slow learner. I vividly remember a conference during which my teacher told my parents that I was not progressing at the rate she felt appropriate, that I wouldn’t communicate and I didn’t want to read aloud or go to the board, and that if I didn’t apply myself and try harder, I would be fortunate to get a grammar school education, let alone earn a high school diploma. What I truly remember from this conference was my father’s anger, his disappointment and my mother’s tears. There I was, an 8-year-old boy, and I just received my first label.
As fate would have it, my family moved, but so did my academic records. I found out the hard way that labels are hard to remove. I found myself placed at the lowest learning level that my new school had. When reading groups were assigned, groups were given a specific color or bird — bluebirds, yellow birds, redbirds, orioles. My group called themselves the dead birds. Not only were we considered slow learners, we also held the distinction of being the school’s worst disciplinary problems. I think our record of driving out three science teachers in one month still stands.
Then, something happened — not that I wanted it to. I had finally started to fit in. Fortunately, my new school had a speech therapist. And so a person entered my life, a person whose name I can’t remember, and took the time to work with me. In less than a year, she became one of my biggest advocates. Through her belief and hard work, she found in me a hidden ability. She placed me into a position where I had to succeed. Because of her, I was forced out of my comfort level and challenged.
With her support, I not only overcame my speech impediment and shyness, but my self-esteem began to improve. I started moving up through the different levels, and with each step she advocated for my placement at another level. Here I am today, completing my 43rd year as an educator, the last 13 as a superintendent. Sure, there were occasional setbacks, and as I reflect back I think: Did I always want to be a teacher or a coach? Was I fated to become an assistant principal or principal and now superintendent? I don’t think so. Truth be told, that 8-year-old boy wanted to be a professional baseball player! But throughout the course of my journey, I either chose a certain path or was guided in a certain direction by people who cared — those who inspired me, those who saw something within me, those who willingly sacrificed for me and those who helped me succeed.
Without them, I know that I would not be here today. I have never forgotten that while it takes many people to shape a career, it only takes one person to change a life and sometimes, we can’t even remember that person’s name.
So why did I become a superintendent? It was to pay back a debt and to help a child.