By Bob Skolnik
The new superintendent at Komarek School District 94 is familiar with the area.
On May 19, the Komarek Board of Education voted to hire one-time S.E. Gross Middle School Principal Todd Fitzgerald to be the district's new superintendent during a special meeting, held virtually.
He replaces Brian Ganan, who will leave Komarek on June 30 after five years at the helm to take a new job as the superintendent of LaGrange Elementary School District 105.
For the past eight years Fitzgerald, 47, has been the principal of Percy Julian Middle School in Oak Park. Prior to that job, he was the principal at Gross Middle School for six years from 2006 until 2012.
He started his career as a social studies teacher at L.J. Hauser Junior High School in Riverside, teaching there for nine years. Fitzgerald then spent one year as an assistant principal at Westmont Junior High School before being hired at S.E. Gross in Brookfield.
It was his familiarity with the area that made the Komarek job especially attractive to Fitzgerald.
"When the position at Komarek posted, I just felt like this would be a good opportunity to get back into that area of the North Riverside, Riverside, Brookfield schools where I really spent a big portion as a teacher and administrator," Fitzgerald told the Landmark.
His familiarity with the area also made Fitzgerald attractive to the school board. Fitzgerald was chosen from a field of 45 applicants in a search that was conducted by the BWP & Associates search firm.
"Dr. Fitzgerald proved to be the best candidate to carry the vision of District 94 forward," said Chris Waas, the president of the Komarek school board, in press release issued by the district. "His experience as a teacher and principal with the Riverside-Brookfield High School feeder system, as well as his tenure in districts with similar demographics, will allow him to connect with the community as a visible and approachable leader."
Fitzgerald received a three-year contract and will be paid a salary of $154,000 in his first year. He takes over on July 1 but is expected to speak at the Komarek graduation on May 30.
Mark Kuzniewski, Fitzgerald's former boss at Brookfield-LaGrange Park District 95, believes that Fitzgerald will do a very good job at Komarek.
"I think that Komarek has landed a very solid, up-and-coming superintendent," Kuzniewski said. "Todd is incredibly knowledgeable in the areas of curriculum and instruction. He understands the human resource aspect of school business."
Kuzniewski mentored and coached Fitzgerald through the process of becoming a superintendent and advised him during his job search and the interview process.
"He will know how to manage and work with a school board, do what's best for kids," Kuzniewski said.
Fitzgerald will have to oversee a major construction project at Komarek next summer as the school is modernized, renovated and expanded. In March voters approved a $20.8 million bond referendum to fund the project.
"Certainly, there will be a learning curve, but whenever I've started a new position I've always met those learning curves with success," Fitzgerald said. "I'm totally confident that I'll be able to lead this building project with the school board and have an outcome that's going to really impact our students in District 94 and the community in positive ways."
Fitzgerald said he had the opportunity to learn about Komarek when he worked at Gross and Hauser.
"I had an opportunity to work some with [former Komarek principal] Tom Criscione and [former Komarek superintendent] Neil Pellicci, both very dedicated and professional educators, so I thought potentially this would be a really good fit," Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald graduated from Valparaiso University with a degree in history and secondary education. He earned two master's degrees, one in history and one in school leadership at Northeastern Illinois University.
He earned a doctoral degree and his superintendent's endorsement from Concordia University in 2015.
Fitzgerald grew up in Lemont and Joliet and went to Joliet Catholic High School where, during his senior year, he was the starting quarterback for a football team that went 10-2 and made it to the state quarterfinals.