After a dozen years at the helm, he plans to sail off into the sunset.
Thomas Ficarra, superintendent of the Morris School District since the summer of 2002, announced on Monday night that he will retire on Oct. 1, 2014. He said he intends to get reacquainted with his family–and his sailboat.
“After 39 years of service and with the District in wonderful shape it is time for a much needed rest,” the superintendent said in a statement.
“So, after ensuring an orderly opening of school for 5,100 students in 10 buildings, I plan to spend time reading, traveling, and becoming reacquainted with a sailboat I seldom get to use.
“Most important I look forward to spending time with my family – especially my new grandson Jack (Morristown High School class of 2032). Then I will begin to think about the next phase of my life – whatever that may be.”
BUDGET BINGO, PERFECT SATs
Board President Leonard Posey praised Ficarra as “an extraordinary educational leader” whose hard work has earned respect and admiration of administrators, teachers and parents.
“As a result of his careful stewardship our District is in excellent shape and a model for 21st century learning. We thank him for his tireless dedication and wish him the very best as he begins a very well earned and well deserved retirement,” Posey said in a statement.
The board hopes to ease the transition by naming an interim superintendent to work alongside Ficarra until he steps down from the $212,000 job.
During his stint as superintendent, Ficarra shepherded the district budget to passage every year. In a ritual of spring, he calmly explained the spending plan to parent groups across the district, which encompasses Morristown and Morris Township, and high schoolers from Morris Plains.
More than 90 percent of MHS graduates continue to college. Many are accepted into elite schools. The 2013 valedictorian and salutatorian each notched perfect SAT scores; both are Stanford students now.
‘Savor every moment’: Thom Ficarra’s last MHS commencement speech
An innovative “Classics Academy” challenges MHS upperclassmen to connect the dots between modern times and Antiquity. Elementary school pupils at the Thomas Jefferson School regularly win state and national investing contests.
The Colonials also have excelled in several sports, including state championships in football and hockey in recent years.
On Ficarra’s watch, a turf field was installed at the high school and five classrooms were added to the Frelinghuysen Middle School, where students receive Google Chromebooks starting in the seventh grade. Planning has started for a high school expansion.
NOT ALL SMOOTH SAILING
But it hasn’t always been smooth sailing.
The superintendent and other district officials are being sued by parents of an MHS freshman who committed suicide in 2012. The parents contend the district should have done more to prevent the bullying they blame for their son’s death. Through its attorney, the district has denied culpability in that tragic case.
The high school has had three principals since then. In a move that perplexed and angered many parents and students, Ficarra and the board reassigned then-Principal Linda Murphy, who later retired.
Last winter, Ficarra had to face a roomful of emotional high school students who protested the abrupt dismissal of their FM radio station’s popular faculty adviser. The superintendent, whose career in education began in 1975, held his ground.
Teacher contract negotiations, meanwhile, may heat up just as Ficarra is leaving.
Gentle yet firm: Ficarra defends dismissal of popular faculty member
He informed the board of his retirement decision on July 1, just days after delivering his final Morristown High commencement speech at Mennen Arena. Members of the Class of ’14 were first-graders when Ficarra was hired as superintendent.
“His insight and clear judgment have been an essential part of the success of this district and his collaborative style of leadership has spread throughout the district and is now part its culture,” said board member Nancy Bangiola, who worked closely with Ficarra during her five years as board president.
“The progress we have made in this district and the stable and peaceful environment in our schools is his legacy,” she said, describing Ficarra as a “friend and teacher” who will be missed.
Ficarra expressed pride in the district’s students, and in educators who are “second to none” because they always put children first. “It has been an honor to work with them,” he said. He expressed gratitude to district parents, and especially, to the school board, “for the best 12 years of my life.”
“Our community is thriving because our schools are thriving,” Ficarra said. “They are successful and diverse and attracting families here in droves.”