CAMDEN — When a person has spent more than 30 years planting seeds and growing personally and professionally like Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald has within the Caesar Rodney School District, saying goodbye can be a difficult thing to do.
However, a job opportunity from the University of Delaware’s Academy of School Leadership proved to be too difficult to resist for Dr. Fitzgerald, who announced on Thursday he will be retiring from his role as Caesar Rodney School District superintendent and starting his new adventure on April 1.
“It was a tough decision,” Dr. Fitzgerald said. “I mean, it was an extremely difficult decision to make, and I spoke to a lot of people about it before making the decision after a lot of soul searching. It was not a decision that I took lightly.
“I had another year left on my contract that I had all intentions of honoring. This has been such a big part of my life and my family’s life for the last 30 years. My children have all gone to school in the CR District. I have grandchildren in the district.
“So, it was a tough decision, and it was a family decision. I decided, ‘OK, this position at the University of Delaware is not going to be available again.’ The nice thing about it is that I am able to retire and still work for the university.”
Dr. Fitzgerald has seemingly been through it all at Caesar Rodney, including the unforeseen pandemic that forced school districts to scramble in an effort to keep children learning over the past two years.
He first joined the district as an assistant principal more than 30 years ago. He then worked as principal at Caesar Rodney High School, a post he held until he was selected as the district’s superintendent in 2007.
He has gotten around to meet thousands and thousands of students over the past three decades, considering the Caesar Rodney School District is comprised of around 8,000 students in 12 schools, with one middle/elementary school campus on Dover Air Force Base and another facility that serves as the county’s school for students with autism.
No matter what position Dr. Fitzgerald has held in the district, he has made sure of one thing — it has always been about the students.
“It’s always been about the kids and the best part of my job has been visiting classrooms,” he said. “I like to give students stars for being star students or star-student pencils. That was always something that I loved doing every Friday, in particular, is visiting schools and walking into a classroom and seeing all the great things taking place — the magic that happens in the classroom and getting to see the kids do that and the teachers doing their thing.”
He also enjoyed his trips into the cafeteria where he would frequently pop in and meet CR’s student population face to face.
“Those kinds of things really have been curtailed by COVID the last couple of years, but I was able to do it again at least this year, so those are my favorite things,” he said.
Under Dr. Fitzgerald’s leadership, six schools in the district were recognized as National Blue Ribbon Schools and he led the district through significant growth and change, including multiple school renovations, the recent addition of two new schools, expansion of academic programs, the addition of language immersion and the district’s all-day kindergarten program.
Throughout his tenure, Dr. Fitzgerald has been recognized as the Delaware Secondary School Principal of the Year, Delaware’s Superintendent of the Year on two occasions, and was awarded the National Superintendent of the Year in 2018.
Additionally, he was recognized by the National Association of Educational Office Professionals as the National Educational Administrator of the Year in 2019.
Mike Marasco, president of CR’s school board, said Dr. Fitzgerald’s pursuit of excellence and passion for education will be greatly missed.
“Dr. Fitzgerald’s foresight and attention to detail has enabled Caesar Rodney to remain one of the best districts in the state,” Mr. Marasco said in a statement. “His natural ability to relate to students in all grade levels and our staff has earned him the reputation throughout the state as a superintendent that can ‘make it happen.’
“Dr. Fitzgerald will be missed, and he should be proud of the amazing advancements he helped craft for the many thousands of students that have been educated under his leadership. We wish Dr. Fitzgerald continued success as he pursues a new chapter in his journey, which continues to demonstrate his dedication to educating both children and adults.”
Mr. Marasco said the district will begin an immediate search for Dr. Fitzgerald’s replacement.
Dr. Fitzgerald said the relationships he developed over the years at CR with mentors such as David Robinson, Niel Postlethwait, Harry Roberts and several others were invaluable in him learning to be an effective superintendent.
“It’s been a team effort,” said Dr. Fitzgerald. “It’s not one person that makes a school district excel. It’s a lot of people. It’s the school board, it’s the superintendent, it’s the administrators, the teachers, staff, and it’s the parents and the children, wanting to be here and wanting to learn.
“It’s truly a community and I’m not leaving the community. I’m going to be here and I’m going to (volunteer to) try to help as much as I can.”
Dr. Fitzgerald’s next post at the University of Delaware’s DASL will continue his involvement with public education. The organization – which has a mission to “improve public education by developing and supporting school and district leaders throughout all levels of their careers” – has assisted other districts in hiring superintendents, such as Lake Forest School District.
So how does one become an effective superintendent?
“I’ve always told people you have to do the job for at least seven years before you get any good at it,” said Dr. Fitzgerald. “They said, ‘Why seven?’ I said, ‘Well, if you can keep a job after making all the mistakes you can make those first seven years, then you’ve learned not to make those mistakes again. So, you get pretty good at what you do.”
He also laughed at the thought of retirement – yet preparing for a new challenge with DASL.
“It’s a full-time job,” he said. “So, people are congratulating me on my retirement, and like my wife said, ‘It would be nice if you actually were retiring. Yours is moving from one job to another.’
“But you know, when I was struggling to make a decision, my youngest daughter said, ‘Suddenly, you know it’s time to start something new, and to trust the magic of beginning.’ I kind of took that to heart.
“I feel like I’ve been part of a lot of wonderful things that have taken place with the Caesar Rodney School District and I’m so proud of what we’ve been able to do here. But I’m also excited about the opportunity to start something new.”