MAPLEWOOD / SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — The South Orange-Maplewood School District has a new face at the helm of the school system. Thomas Ficarra is the interim superintendent of schools for the 2017-2018 school year, after the retirement of John Ramos Sr.
Ficarra has held several different positions in the education field, most recently serving as interim superintendent in Hamilton Township. Just prior to that, he spent 12 years as the superintendent of the Morris School District.
“After only 10 months of being retired (from the Morris School District), I decided I wanted to go back to work,” Ficarra told the News-Record in a Sept. 1 phone interview.
Ficarra began his career in his hometown of Elizabeth and spent 20 years in the district as a teacher, vice principal and assistant superintendent. He then moved on to become the superintendent of the Mt. Arlington School District in Morris County before he was hired in the Morris School District, which serves students from Morristown, Morris Township and Morris Plains.
“I think all totaled I’ve been a super for 22 years,” Ficarra said. “Morris has a very similar demographic to South Orange and Maplewood, so each job has led me to be able to do this.”
Despite having served in similar districts, Ficarra recognizes that each is unique, with its own accomplishments and challenges. As such, he said he is still working to learn all the ins and outs of the SOMSD.
“This is my one-month anniversary of being here,” he said. “I want to learn as much as I can about the district, since I haven’t been here long. It’s a complex community.”
Although Ficarra said he is still in the exploratory phase as the district’s new interim superintendent, the Board of Education believes he has the experience necessary to lead the district while board members search for a more permanent replacement.
“Dr. Ficarra’s experience is clear,” Board of Education President Elizabeth Baker said at the June 7 BOE meeting to introduce Ficarra to the public. “He’s a seasoned hand. He knows New Jersey, he has deep connections at the state and local levels and connections statewide. But what he’s achieved for the communities where he’s served is really quite amazing. When we’ve contacted leaders across the state and reached out to the boards under whom he’s served, the consensus was resounding.”
Board member Donna Smith echoed Baker’s statements at the meeting.
“I think Dr. Ficarra is exactly what we need at this juncture,” she said. “His experience as superintendent and particularly as an interim superintendent, which is a different animal, will provide us with the leadership we need as we prepare for hiring a new permanent superintendent.”
According to Ficarra, the role of interim superintendent allows him a certain liberty to explore change in a different way and to take risks that have the ability to pay off in big ways.
“When I was in Morris, the Board of Education and I decided on things that would come four years down the road,” he said. “Being an interim enhances that role because there’s an expiration date. You’re planning for a shorter period of time. I can do something without really thinking about my job security, because there is no job security.”
As someone who has worked in many different jobs in education over the years, Ficarra said his years in the classroom were the most challenging.
“Teaching was the most demanding job I ever had,” he said. “As a teacher, you’re directly in charge of children. There’s not a moment within that time frame where you can take a break. It’s more intense than being in an office.”
Ficarra’s favorite part of the job, and what he thinks is the most important, is giving students the tools they need to succeed when they graduate.
“Every child has the opportunity to reach their full potential,” he said. “The most important thing is when they’re out there seeing the world and throughout their life, giving them those tools that they need to succeed.”
When a permanent superintendent for the district is hired and his time in South Orange and Maplewood is up, Ficarra isn’t sure what will come next for him.
“I don’t think I have any plans,” he joked. “Maybe I’ll go to the beach.”
Photos Courtesy of SOMSD