End of an educational era North Bergen schools chief Fischbach retires after 47 years; Dandorph may replace him
by Jim Hague Reporter staff writer
Jul 10, 2007 | 820 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
When Peter Fischbach began his career in the North Bergen school system in 1960, he was a young science teacher and North Bergen High School had not even been built yet.

Now, 47 years later, Fischbach retires as the Superintendent of Schools and leaves with only one regret - not being able to see the construction of a new high school, which was his quest for the last eight years of his remarkable tenure. Various plans have been scrapped until the district gets more money.

"That was the only downfall," Fischbach said before he was set to retire at the end of the week. "We didn't get a chance to see a new high school before I left. It's what we all wanted to relieve the overcrowding in all our schools."

But during Fischbach's 30-plus years as an administrator, the North Bergen school district underwent many changes for the good.

Now, someone will have to fill his shoes before the new school year. While an announcement on a new superintendent has not been made official, it is believed that long-time Kennedy School Principal Robert Dandorph will be selected as Fischbach's replacement.

The job posting remains open until the end of the month, but it is expected that Dandorph will be elevated to the position of superintendent within the coming weeks.

Many changes during tenure

Fischbach was at the helm through many positive changes in the district. There was the implementation of an Early Childhood program, one that is now flourishing inside Bruins Stadium in North Hudson Braddock Park. There was the concept of full-day kindergarten and the construction of a centrally-based kindergarten center in a new annex to Lincoln School.

With Fischbach's guidance, there was a program that prepared high school students for career choices in the future.

With Fischbach's leadership, the North Bergen athletic programs continued to grow and the school became known more than just having a dominant football program. The district's music program was dramatically enhanced and the marching band became well known and well respected.

"I think we always wanted to have a comprehensive program in place, to balance the academics with the extracurricular activities, like sports," Fischbach said. "I always believed that sports were an important part of education. We tried to always get something for all the children, try to bring out the best in them."

It was an era of upheaval in the North Bergen school system, and the soft-spoken, mild-mannered Fischbach was the one who led the way, gaining universal respect throughout the district with every passing day.

Earlier this year, Fischbach decided that this would be his last as superintendent, citing health issues and family commitments.

As the school year ended last week, it was the time for the last remaining original North Bergen High School teacher who was there when the doors opened to bid farewell. "It's settling in now that I have come to the end of my career," said Fischbach Wednesday, after the Board of Education staff gave him a farewell breakfast. He added, "It's now time for me to start some other type of career. I don't know what that will be yet, but I think it's time."

Surprise retirement party

Last week, the entire district gave Fischbach a surprise retirement party at the Cameo in Garfield, with more than 1,000 of Fischbach's colleagues and co-workers in attendance.

"It was very moving and touching to see the number of individuals who were there," Fischbach said. "I was totally surprised and didn't know that was coming. It was very pleasant and also very shocking. It was also a bit humbling that there were so many there."

Kathy Somick, who served as one of the personal assistants to Fischbach and the Board of Education for many years, organized the get-together and kept the whole night under wraps, without the boss' knowledge.

"I knew about the breakfast," Fischbach said. "That was planned. I didn't know about the party."

Fischbach said that he was also moved by the many people who had stopped by in the final days to wish him well. One was a student of Fischbach's when he began teaching in the high school in 1960.

"James McMullen is now a social worker, and I had him as a student 47 years ago," Fischbach said. "I was a first-year teacher and he was in that class. He came up here to wish me well in my retirement and wondered if any of his other teachers were still here. I had to tell him that they all retired before me."

Fischbach said that as he reflected about his career in education, he loved every minute of it.

"I was very fortunate to be able to work here all these years," Fischbach said. "I remember that I once said that I would never make it to my 65th birthday, but I went well past it. The good times overtake the bad ones by far. I have to thank the people of the town, the teachers and staff, and of course, the children, who gave me many good memories of being here."

Added Fischbach, "There was a part of me who thought this day would never come, but now, I think it's time. It's time for a change and time for me to do other things. I want to be able to enjoy other things in my life. Even though there will be a change in September, I think my successor will be well prepared."

Tee time

Fischbach, whose wife, Karen, is the Supervisor of Student Personnel Services for the district, said that his wife will continue to work while he enjoys a life of luxury.

"That's the plan for now," he said. "Karen wants to continue to work."

In the meantime, Fischbach said he plans to golf as many times as humanly possible over the next two months. "As many times as my surgically repaired shoulder allows me," he laughed.

He also plans on being a doting grandfather and just relax, at least for the next two months. After 47 years, perhaps Fischbach has deserved that.

"I think the feelings are two fold," Fischbach said. "There's a sense of sadness, because I am leaving, but there's a sense of happiness as well, because I can do other things now that I put off for a number of years."

Fischbach first became an assistant superintendent of schools in 1973, then was elevated to superintendent from 1976 through 1979, only to lose the position due to politics. He was named Superintendent of Schools again in 1990 and has remained in the position until his retirement this week.

"I would say that it's always been a great school district," Fischbach said. "The administration, the staff, they all came together to work for one common goal, the betterment of the children. Of all the things I'll miss, it will be the children that I'll miss the most. I loved working with the children from the minute I became a teacher. I guess having a good mother and eight brothers and sisters helped. I always looked at the children as being part of my extended family."

For now, the grandfather of the North Bergen school system has a tee time waiting in South Carolina. "I hope to play 15 times over the next month with my son-in-law," Fischbach said. "Every other day."

Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at either OGSMAR@aol.com or jhague@hudsonreporter.com
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