DOVER — When Capital School District Superintendent Dr. Michael Thomas celebrated his retirement Friday night, there were many tributes, speeches and gifts.
But perhaps the best came from school board president Kay Dietz-Sass.
Standing with the rest of the board, she invited him to the first home game at Dover High School in the fall, when they intend to christen the Michael D. Thomas stadium.
Dr. Thomas retires this month after 42 years in education. He spent the past 13 years serving as Capital School District superintendent.
“I’m feeling emotions inside tonight I had no idea I would feel and I’m amazed by it all,” he said in his closing remark.
“Any success that I’ve had … is because of the work that all of you do. That’s how it works,” he said.
“Thank you so much. It’s been a sheer pleasure. I appreciate it.”
At the celebration Friday night at Dover High School, 19 people came up to the podium to speak about Dr. Thomas.
Speakers Friday said that he will leave behind a legacy of student achievement, fiscal responsibility and improved facilities.
Old friends, school board members, district employees and community members shared the lessons they learned from him, stories about his life.
Speakers described him as honest and upfront; a man of character, with unwavering resolve; someone who led by example and brought people together and made them feel included.
Dick Scrafford, who served on the district construction committee, called him “fair and firm” — he always kept the students, community and staff in mind, Mr. Scrafford said.
During his tenure, Dr. Thomas helped pass three straight referendums, two for construction, in 2005, 2007 and 2010.
He oversaw many construction projects, including building South Dover Elementary School, the District Office and Professional Development Center and Dover High School.
Superintendents Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald, from Caesar Rodney School District, and Dr. Debbie Wicks, from Smyrna, also offered remarks Friday.
“I believe this is a first,” joked Dr. Fitzgerald, standing on stage in the Dover High School auditorium.
Dr. Fitzgerald said there was no task-force meeting Dr. Thomas attended — no phone call he made — without asking how it would benefit students and public education in Delaware.
He “kept the powers that be on their toes” and reminded everyone who they worked for, Dr. Fitzgerald said.
“...there’s still a lot of work to be done and I wish you were still helping to lead the charge.”
He “always kept his game face on,” said James Trower, Capital supervisor of child nutrition.
“I think what held him together was his dedication to his job,” Mr. Trower said.
“You taught us how to persevere, communicate often and have each other’s backs,” said Darren Guido, supervisor of instruction.
Now, Mr. Guido said, he’s formed new leaders to stay behind.
“That’s great leadership,” he said.
Dr. Thomas started out teaching chemistry and physics at the middle and high school level; eventually he moved into administration, working as both an assistant principal and principal at middle and high schools in Virginia.
Before he moved to Delaware, Dr. Thomas worked as superintendent in Somerset, Maryland, for five years and assistant superintendent in Accomack, Virginia, for seven years.
“I couldn’t think of, through the years, a better place to end his career,” his brother, Larry Thomas said, “because Mike has had nothing but fond things to say ... about Capital School District, the people within this district and the city itself.”