Volume 18 • Issue 25 | November 4 - 10, 2005

photo by Jennifer Weisbord

Maggie Siena, who will become principal of P.S. 150 after Thanksgiving, taught at P.S. 234 in Tribeca, like the current principals of P.S. 89 and P.S. 234.

Tribeca’s newest principal learned her trade in Tribeca

By Ronda Kaysen

When Maggie Siena learned through the grapevine that beloved principal Alyssa Polack was leaving P.S. 150, she knew the perfect opportunity had arrived. Within a matter of weeks, she was hired as Polack’s replacement and returned to the neighborhood where she began her career.

“It’s a plum, it’s a gift,” said Siena seated at a child-sized table surrounded by children’s artwork at P.S. 150/The Tribeca Learning Center last week. “I’m really excited about it, it’s nice to be coming home again —to a new home.”

The 42-year-old school administrator began her career as a student teacher at P.S. 234, a few blocks south of P.S. 150 on Greenwich St., and eventually became assistant principal. In 2003, she founded City Hall Academy, a learning center at Tweed Courthouse, with P.S. 234 principal Anna Switzer. She left a year later when her second child was born and rejoined Switzer at A.U.S.S.I.E., a literacy consultant firm based in New Jersey.

After Thanksgiving, she will take the reins from Polack, 38, whose husband recently took a job in Minneapolis, Minn. She has been toiling at the school since last week, meeting with parents, staff and school children at the small, 180-student school.

The students, kindergarteners through fifth graders, are more “curious” than concerned to have a new principal, said Siena. “This is a place where the kids feel very well taken care of,” she said, adding that a new principal is not nearly as disruptive as a new classroom teacher.

Siena, with her hip, wire framed glasses, knee-high black boots and chocolate hair, looks like she belongs in swanky Tribeca. And the Brooklyn resident is happy to be back in the district — District 2 — where she earned her stripes. “District 2 is famous nationwide,” she said, noting that the district, which includes all of Lower Manhattan, except for the Lower East Side, began emphasizing teacher training more than a decade ago, when she was a student teacher. “It was a pretty new thing to say that smaller class size is good, but teacher training is more important.”

“Professional development” is one of the hallmarks of the district, she said, and was a key component of City Hall Academy where she served as principal for a year before taking a maternity leave after the birth of her son, who is now 18 months old. Siena also has a five year-old daughter. Her husband, Ken Schles, is a photographer.

Siena’s hire has been marked by a wave of enthusiasm from her colleagues in the Downtown school community. “She’s a dear friend and she’s always been a dear colleague,” said Ronnie Najjar, principal of P.S. 89 in Battery Park City. Siena was a student teacher in a classroom next to Najjar’s at P.S. 234 and the two eventually worked as fourth/fifth grade teachers in neighboring classrooms at the school. “It’s very exciting for me to have her become a principal colleague. She excels at everything she does.”

With Siena now onboard, all three principals at the Downtown elementary schools — P.S. 234, P.S. 150 and P.S. 89 — share a common background. They all made their way through P.S. 234.

When Najjar left P.S. 234 for P.S. 89, Sandy Bridges took over her fourth grade classroom, moving in next door to Siena. Siena “is phenomenal,” said Bridges, now principal of P.S. 234. Bridges often asked Siena for tips on teaching fourth graders. “I found her to be the most wonderfully generous colleague and I learned so much about teaching from her.”

With Siena back in the neighborhood, Bridges has plans to soon take her out for a drink. “It’ll be good to have another colleague in the neighborhood,” she said. “Being a principal can be very, very lonely.”

For the time being, Siena has no plans to make any radical changes at the Learning Center, which enjoys an excellent reputation in the neighborhood. “Things are working really nicely here,” she said. “I’m just really excited to get started.”

Ronda@DowntownExpress.com


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