In our Fall 2015 issue, our Woman to Watch was the extremely accomplished and passionate Jessica Fitzwater. Jessica is a music teacher at Oakdale Elementary School, and a director of an extracurricular inclusive chorus. She also is the District 4 Council Member for the Frederick County Council. Now, almost two years later, we’re catching up with her again to see what she’s been up to since we touched base last!
She’s back, and every bit as Sassy!
What have you been up to since we last spoke? Since the most recent election?
Wow, that’s a big question! Well, since the last time we spoke, I became a mom! My son Jonah was born on May 27, 2016. He’s had a huge impact on both my life and my service; my time is spent quite a bit differently than it was, because now I have another priority that wasn’t there before. Being a mom is one of the most wonderful things I’ve ever experienced, and it makes me look at local and national issues a bit differently. For example, issues of education/children have always been close to my heart, but since I became a mom, I’ve started looking at it more closely. I think that being a young professional and a young mother helps me to view issues through a lens that others might not possess.
With regard to the election, November 9th was a hard day for me. It was the day that I returned to my teaching job after maternity leave, which was already quite difficult. However, I’ve been inspired and excited by the people that have mobilized around certain issues as a result of the 2016 election. I’m truly excited to see what this means for our county, state, and country. It’s even more amazing to me that these new organizations and movements, protecting voters and democratic values, are being spearheaded by women. I don’t think that this is an accident or a surprise, considering how the President’s public policy has been rolling out since his inauguration.
There’s a big dearth of women politicians on Capitol Hill – what is one piece of advice you’d give to aspiring female politicians?
Well, I still love what I shared with Sass last time we spoke. I still believe in those things. We as women tend to underestimate ourselves. Recognize what you bring to the table, don’t sell yourself short. If you sell yourself short, it does a disservice not only to yourself, but to your family and community. Also, starting small is fine and good – being on a non-profit board, president of the PTA, or the head of a community service project — all these initiatives and experiences translate well into public service and running for office. Maryland is fairly progressive, but we have pretty low percentages of women serving in Annapolis, in the state, and in local county seats. I believe that I’m still the only woman under 40 that’s serving at the county level in the state of MD.
Is there something you know now that you wish you’d known two years ago?
Well, these are things that I knew then, but am learning to understand better today: it’s extremely important to say “no” to things, so that you can be your best self for the things you say “yes” to. If you tend to be the type of person that always wants to help, then people recognize that you’re a “yes” person, and it ends up meaning that you’ll never be able to give your all to everything you’ve signed on to do, because you’re spread too thin. You start to get a reputation for someone that has a good work ethic, and who always follows through. My life has forced me to become better at saying no, because of my son, teaching job, and serving on the county council. Additionally, it’s a strength to ask others for help, not a weakness. If you ask others for help, it will facilitate your becoming an even more responsive leader.
Do you ever find it difficult to balance being a mom and being a career-driven woman? How do you handle that difficulty?
Yes, I find it difficult, that part is easy to answer! I also find it very rewarding. I’ve always been that type of person to be driven and ambitious with my job. I enjoy being busy, but the balance is certainly challenging. I’ve decided that it’s best to take things week by week, some weeks might be more stressful than others. For example, the spring concert for the school always falls around the budget meeting for the county council, so that’s always a really hectic time. I try to be realistic about what I’m able to accomplish, and I prioritize and recognize what I need to say no to and what I need to say yes to. Being a mom and serving as a county council member has positively benefited my teaching, which I think is a huge positive for the children to see.
Is there anything you’d do differently (regarding your career) if you could? If so, what would it be and why?
I don’t think so – I really love being a teacher, and I’m passionate about working with young students and instilling in them an interest or appreciation for the arts. I think that the arts really help kids get out of their comfort zones, and that’s great. I also really enjoy being on the county council, because I feel that I bring a unique voice that wasn’t there in the previous administration.
What do you like most about the woman you are today?
My drive. I have always been the kind of person who isn’t satisfied with the status quo; too curious about what the future could hold or how things could change for the better to just sit back. I’m proud that I have been able to stay true to that side of myself while still spending time with family and striving to achieve balance in my life.
If you’re curious about what Jessica was up to back in 2015, make sure to check out our Fall 2015 issue!