‘He is always driven by doing the right thing’

PV alum takes over as the interim district superintendent

Daniel+Fishbein+will+be+the+districts+interim+superintendent+while+the+board+works+to+find+a+replacement+for+Erik+Gundersen.

Ava Kim

Daniel Fishbein will be the district’s interim superintendent while the board works to find a replacement for Erik Gundersen.

Emily Moy, Staff Editor

Daniel Fishbein recalled that there was some Hillsdale/River Vale rivalry while he attended middle school at George G. White School in Hillsdale.

“Teams would play against each other and things like that,” Fishbein said. “But once you got to high school there [really wasn’t any rivalry, because you were on] the same teams or you were in the same play or the same marching band or the same classes.”

Fishbein, a 1979 PV Alum, is serving as Pascack Valley’s interim superintendent this year while the Board of Education finds a permanent replacement for Erik Gundersen, who retired the previous year. 

“[In high school], I was involved every season of track, and I was involved in student government,” Fishbein said. “I had a great high school experience with the things that I was involved with and the friends that I have had. Some of my closest friends are people I went through high school with.”

Fishbein and his wife both grew up in Hillsdale. They attended PV and went to prom together. Although they went to different elementary schools (Fishbein went to George White and his wife went to Ann Blanche Smith), they knew each other from going to the same synagogue.

Right now, both Hillsdale elementary schools, Meadowbrook and Ann Blanche Smith, house grades K-4, and George G. White Middle School houses grades 5-8. When Fishbein was in school, Meadowbrook and Smith were K-6 schools, and George White was a K-8 school. Kids attended either Smith, George White, or Meadowbrook for elementary school, and then all the students came to George White for 7th and 8th grade.

Fishbein wasn’t always planning on going into education.

“I was a geology major [in college at the University of Maine],” Fishbein said. “Sometime during [my] junior year, a big energy crisis occurred, and the job market sort of dried up.”

Right after he finished college, Fishbein worked as an underwriter (someone who assesses how risky it will be to ensure different items) at an insurance company for a year, which he said “wasn’t that exciting.”

After that, Fishbein’s former cross country coach and PV history teacher Jeff Jasper reached out to ask if Fishbein would be interested in helping coach the PV cross country team. After accepting the offer, Fishbein found that he “[loved coaching],” and he started thinking about becoming a teacher.

He attended graduate school at Saint Michael’s College in Vermont and became a science teacher at an International Business Machines (IBM) chip plant in the same state. 

“I taught [the chip plant workers] physics, chemistry, and whatever was computer science back then,” Fishbein said.

Fishbein later moved to the Bronx to be with his current wife and taught science at Elmwood Park Memorial Middle School and Elmwood Park Memorial High School. They were married in 1989. He took a year off after that to finish up coursework for his doctorate degree at Teachers College at Columbia University and earned his degree in 1992. He taught at Riverdale Country School for 2 years.

Fishbein’s 5th child was born in one of his last years as a teacher. Contributed by Daniel Fishbein

“My youngest [child] was born in one of my last years as a teacher,” Fishbein said. “[So my kids] didn’t see me as a teacher, they saw me as an administrator. They’d ask me [a question on chemistry] 20 years after I finished teaching, and I was like, ‘Okay, let’s figure this out.’”

Fishbein then spent 1 year as an administrator in the Katonah-Lewisboro School District. After that, he spent two years as the assistant principal/athletic director at the Glen Ridge Public Schools district. He then spent five years as a principal in Glen Ridge, and then seven years as the district’s superintendent. In 2008, he became the superintendent of the Ridgewood Public Schools. After his retirement from Ridgewood in 2020, former PV superintendent Erik Gundersen reached out to Fishbein to offer him the superintendent position.

“Gundersen gave me a call to see if I’d be interested [in speaking to the board],” Fishbein said. “I only retired in December, but I was helping another district out working in the area of HR. And it was coming to an end, so I figured I would happily speak to the board and I guess we liked each other.”

Fishbein started meeting with individual board members at the end of June to get to know them better, describing them as “smart, intelligent people.”

“I think [Fishbein] comes across as a man of character,” PV Board of Education vice president Joseph Blundo said. “Being an alumni myself, I just feel it’s a really special opportunity for him and for us to be led by [an alumni].”

Fishbein said he was excited to be back in the PV district.

“It’s great [to be back],” Fishbein said. “I mean, I graduated a long time ago, but I do enjoy assisting the district that provided me with a great education.”

As far as goals for this year go, Fishbein said that it is “absolutely critical” to find a successor for Gundersen and that the board will “start those conversations pretty much right away.”

PV BOE president Tammy Molinelli said she “has found [Fishbein] to be somebody who’s really good at listening and building teams of people.”

“He’s very much interested in people’s opinions, such as their thoughts, how they see things, and how they understand things,” Molinelli said. “And I think that’s one of the signs of a great leader—they understand that there’s not just one way to look at things.”

Dr. Thomas Gorman, the superintendent of the Ridgewood Public Schools, said that Fishbein always remains calm and tries to make the right and best decision for his students.

“He’s beloved by everybody, [including] parents and all the teachers and administrators,” Gorman said. “[He’s] very easy to get along with and is a good friend and a good mentor. He’s not afraid to make the hard decision or the hard choice, but he really tries to build consensus and bring people together. And he is always driven by doing the right thing.”

Fishbein said that to him, the most important part of being a superintendent is “working with the staff to make sure that they have all the resources [they need] and are highly trained to provide the best education possible for the students.”

“There’s a whole bunch of other things that come in and can distract you, but that’s my role to orchestrate that,” Fishbein said. “It’s sort of a behind-the-scenes job in many ways, which I’m fine with, [working] with the business office, the technology office, the curriculum and instruction office, and the principals to make sure that this whole big operation works as flawlessly as possible.

Fishbein said one of his favorite parts of being a superintendent is going to student activities and seeing students perform, whether that’s on a stage, athletic field, or anywhere else they can showcase their work and/or talents.

“Most of all I love graduation and seeing kids walk across the stage and get their diploma,” Fishbein said. “Every child has a story. And that’s just closing one chapter in their lives and then there’s a whole bunch of things that are going to take place after that.”

Fishbein also said he enjoys visiting the schools to see what’s going on in the buildings and engage with the students. 

“I’d love to be invited to things, such as an activity in the classroom or something after school,” Fishbein said. “As time permits, I will most likely be there.”

Fishbein fun facts by Smoke Signal