BOE approves interim superintendent at June 7 meeting

Thomas Ficarra

SOUTH ORANGE / MAPLEWOOD, NJ — The South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education unanimously agreed to name Thomas Ficarra as interim superintendent of schools at its June 7 meeting.

The board voted 8-0, with board member Johanna Wright absent, to appoint Ficarra to the position; he will take charge Aug. 1, and stay for up to one year; there is a possibility, though remote, that his contract can be extended if necessary. According to the resolution appointing him, Ficarra’s salary will be based on a $196,584 annual stipend.

This decision comes after the recent announcement that current Superintendent of Schools John Ramos Sr. will be taking early retirement, effective this summer. Despite losing Ramos, the Board of Education looks forward to working with Ficarra.

“We wholeheartedly welcome Tom Ficarra to our school district. Dr. Ficarra is a dedicated, student-focused educational leader, who is committed to equity and opportunity for all students. Together with this commitment, he brings to our district four decades of experience and the proven leadership skills to move our district forward and improve the learning experience, school climate, and outcomes for our students, while we conduct a search for a permanent superintendent.” BOE President Elizabeth Baker said in a statement.

Ficarra has a record of more than 40 years in public education, having spent 20 years in Elizabeth, where he began his career as a teacher, eventually becoming a principal, then an assistant superintendent. He then spent six years as superintendent of schools in Mount Arlington, followed by more than a decade as superintendent of schools in Morris. Just as the South Orange-Maplewood School District represents two municipalities, so too does the Morris School District, which is composed of Morristown and Morris; due to this, the Morris School District and the SOMSD have faced some similar challenges in recent years.

Morris BOE member Nancy Bangiola, who served as the Morris BOE president during Ficarra’s tenure, described the results Ficarra’s leadership achieved for their district’s students.

“We accomplished a great deal under Dr. Ficarra’s leadership, including the development of Morristown High School state-of- the-art STEM Academy, a fundraising campaign for the high school turf field, and major school renovations and expansions,” Bangiola said in a statement. “Dr. Ficarra also put into place programs that challenge students and support learning for all students. We were able to accomplish all this because Dr. Ficarra’s leadership style is transparent and inclusive, and as a result, the board, staff, parents and administration all worked together toward the same goals under his great direction.”

At the June 7 meeting, Ficarra told the public that he was excited to begin working in South Orange-Maplewood, mainly because of the two towns’ commitment to diversity.

“The reason I was immediately attracted to your community is because it’s a community where people chose diversity,” Ficarra said at the meeting. “It was a conscious choice. People were seeking it out because they believe in the richness of the experience. It adds to our lives.”

According to Ficarro, while the SOMSD certainly has challenges to overcome, he said he feels the district is on the right track and will be “on the right side of history.”

“I know that the work that you have started already is important to you and of course we have much, much more that lies ahead, especially in the area of equity,” he said. “But you’re headed on the right path.”

He also reaffirmed his philosophy that “connectedness” is necessary to create a successful school district.

“My overarching belief as to what makes a school district successful is connectedness. An organization can only be successful if the intelligence, talent and commitment of people at all levels of an organization are tapped and allowed to develop,” Ficarro said. “Success happens through collaboration and respect. Creating a ‘learning environment’ based on safe and healthy relationships is the most important aspect of organizational leadership.”