To the Editor of Watertown News,
I was very disappointed to hear the news that our school superintendent, Dr. Jean Fitzgerald, has decided to retire. In her letter to the community, Dr. Fitzgerald explained she was ready to start a new chapter in her life. But from my perspective, it seems she was driven out of her position by a negative and unsupportive environment.
With Dr. Fitzgerald’s retirement, we have lost a passionate advocate for our children, and a deeply knowledgeable educator who understands the complexities of teaching and learning. We as a community need to ask ourselves why we allowed our kids, and the teachers, staff, and administrators who are educating our kids, to lose the benefit of such a leader. And we need to ask ourselves why we tarnished the reputation of a respected educator who spent forty years working in the public schools.
This summer, a group of parents started a petition calling for the school committee to begin the process of removing Dr. Fitzgerald from her position as the superintendent. They cited her lack of foresight around school growth – an issue that is primarily the responsibility of the Town. They cited her ineffectiveness as a communicator – though it seemed more about disagreements with the decisions she was making about how to handle the growth at the Cunniff. Community members have the right to critique the superintendent, but the complaints voiced in the petition did not warrant the call for Dr. Fitzgerald’s removal. A petition calling for a public official’s removal should be reserved for someone who violates the public’s trust, not for a leader who makes decisions that not everyone agrees with.
At the August school committee meeting, there was an incredible outpouring of support for Dr. Fitzgerald. Teachers and administrators from all levels within WPS spoke of Dr. Fitzgerald’s vision, intelligence, collaborative leadership style, and commitment to their professional growth. Other community members also spoke of Dr. Fitzgerald’s strengths, including parents and a former school board committee member. I was optimistic that despite the hostile climate created by the people who started the petition, that Dr. Fitzgerald would stay. Her decision to leave leads me to believe that the leadership of the school committee did not support her strongly enough. If that is the case, then our school committee leadership needs to ask themselves some tough questions about how to maintain the next superintendent. A revolving superintendency is devastating for a school district.
I am thankful to Dr. Fitzgerald for her leadership in Watertown and for her commitment to the students of Massachusetts throughout her long career as a public educator.