BELOIT—Former Beloit Memorial High School (BMHS) Principal James Fitzpatrick has published “Beyond Theories and Degrees: The Alley Smarts of School Leadership” to inspire those in the educational field to move up and be leaders in their fields.
“If it motivates an educator to take their career to the next level, that would be great. The future of our schools depends on caring and invested leaders stepping up to accept these roles. You can do it,” Fitzpatrick said.
The new book, which comes out in August, is available for preorder now at Rowman & Littlefield Publishing and Amazon or by visiting Fitzpatrick’s website at https://jefitzpatrick.com.
Fitzpatrick grew up in the Chicago area. He started his teaching career in the fall of 1975 at Newman Catholic High School in Mason City, Iowa where he taught social studies and coached cross country, track and basketball.
After earning his master’s degree he went on to serve in two Iowa principalships. By the fall of 1986 he was appointed principal of BMHS, a position he would hold through 1997. He was an influential player in the passage of a $26.5 million referendum to renovate the high school and became known as a national leader in the area of four-block scheduling.
Fitzpatrick said he cherished his years in Beloit, a community he said faced its issues head on.
“I really wish Beloit well, and it will always have a special place in my heart. It’s where I’ve seen the greatest teaching I’ve ever witnessed. Some of the standardized exams didn’t always bear that out,” he said.
For Beloit to build on successes going forward, Fitzpatrick said it will need stability on the board and in the superintendency.
“A superintendent really has to be invested in Beloit. Over time too many superintendents often looked at Beloit as a stepping stone- that caring attitude in wanting to be a committed community member and leader is something the school employees and families, students and citizens really have to see and internalize,” Fitzpatrick said.
After getting his Ph.D. Fitzpatrick moved on to a position as superintendent of the School District of Fort Atkinson until his retirement in 2013. Today he is an assistant professor at National Louis University in Chicago working with aspiring principals, superintendents, central office directors and higher education candidates.
“My goal in the beginning of the book is to encourage people to take the next step. I’m passionate about school leadership and how important it is,” Fitzpatrick said.
Fitzpatrick’s book features the POCDICE approach to leadership: planning, organization, communication, decision-making, influence, coordination and evaluation.
Part one of the book talks about the essentials of leadership. Leaders must build a culture of affirmation, collaboration and trust.
Part two is about the role of the principal.
“The most important evaluation a principal ever completes is at the point of hire. And once there is a good hire, an administrator has to help them grow,” he said.
Fitzpatrick stressed the importance of growing leadership and giving everyone a chance to shine.A lot of time, he said, schools will have a “star” system where administrators go to all the same people for help. As talented as those “stars” may be, only relying on a few can stymie the growth of others.
Fitzpatrick said he feels sorry for principals these days who are running out of gas.
“The evaluation systems are extremely rigorous. Principals’ time is better spent working with younger teachers on lesson delivery and design and classroom management. I don’t think outstanding teachers need a formal evaluation more than every third year, although they should be in professional learning communities where they have a chance to look at the data, build assessments and design the curriculum.”
Part three of the book covers the roles of the superintendent and the board.A superintendent is likened to an NFL coach who must develop a strategic plan composed of an academic, fiscal and communication agenda. There is a strong emphasis placed on the boundaries between the superintendent and board. The board elected by the citizens determines the “what” and the superintendent determines the “how.”
“Shared governance succeeds when the board and superintendent ‘stay in their yards,’” Fitzpatrick said.
Fitzpatrick said the book would be ideal for active practitioners as well as as an induction for new board members.