OSKALOOSA— Jessica Kitzman graduated from Oskaloosa High School in 2008. She is now living in Clifton, New Jersey, and is a public defender in Bergen County, New Jersey.
Kitzman took a big leap out of high school traveling all the way to Syracuse to get her undergraduate degree in Policy Studies from Syracuse University and then went to Law School at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York City.
Kitman was named attorney of the month in July of 2019 for the state of New Jersey Office of the Public Defender for the excellent advocacy she displays for her clients, her success in obtaining outright acquittals in two difficult cases this spring, and her ability to convince a judge to suppress evidence which resulted in dismissal of an indictment.
Kitzman said she is proud to call Oskaloosa home.
“Oskaloosa was a great place to grow up, and I’m thankful for the foundation it gave me,” she said. “I was fortunate to have a wonderful community around me; great teachers, coaches, friends and family. I love returning home, and I love seeing so many great new businesses and opportunities happening in Osky--things like the Alley, Oskaloosa Main Street, FACE of Mahaska County, Christmas in July and more.”
When asked what her favorite memory from Oskaloosa High School was Kitzman said, “participating in cross country and marching band were some of my fondest high school memories.”
“I still run today, and the friendships and enjoyment I had in marching band led me to go to a college where I could participate in marching band as well,” she said. “I ended up meeting some of my closest friends and my husband in the Syracuse University Marching Band. So, I’m very grateful for the band program at Oskaloosa High School for exposing me to marching band in high school.”
At Oskaloosa High School, Kitzman was involved in the drumline, played percussion in marching band and concert band, she played piano in jazz band, she also ran cross country, played soccer and was involved in theatre.
“I loved being in our production of The Outsiders as Cherry Valence, and having to dye my hair red,” she said.
Kitzman said there were countless wonderful teachers at Oskaloosa High School but AP Biology with Mike Goudy and Heritage with Paul Burrow were probably her top two favorite classes and teachers.
“Mr. Burrow, now a Methodist minister, actually officiated my wedding last September,” she said.
Her favorite memories in college were, once again, marching band and spending time performing and being with her friends she made in the Syracuse drumline.
She said, “I also had the opportunity to spend a semester teaching a government course in Manhattan through an exchange program Syracuse offers. In addition to teaching with the senior class, I took courses on urban education,” she said. “I ended up working at a charter school in Queens for a semester before starting law school and was able to use that experience to get that first job.”
When asked how Oskaloosa helped her get where she is now, Kitzman said she was given a strong foundation in Oskaloosa.
“Looking back, the small-town feel and community were extremely beneficial to me growing up, but there were also still many opportunities for me,” she said. “I think I was able to grow up and have certain values instilled in me that led me to pursue a career in social justice and trying to speak up for those who often don’t have a voice. I wanted to become a public defender when I was in high school, in part from various classes I took and the teachers that I had. So, growing up in Oskaloosa definitely shaped who I am and helped me find my path.”
She has been a public defender since 2015 and loves it. She said her favorite part about what she does now is helping others.
“I always knew I wanted a career helping others. I love my job, my coworkers, and my clients,” she said. “It’s definitely challenging work, but the best part of my job is definitely feeling like you’re making a difference in someone else’s life and trying to correct injustice.”