Volume 19 • Issue 4 | June 9 - 15, 2006

Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert

P.S. 234’s incoming acting principal Lisa Ripperger, right, met parents at a P.T.A. meeting Wednesday with outgoing principal Sandy Bridges.

P.S. 234 parents meet new leader

By Ronda Kaysen with Anindita Dasgupta

When students return to P.S. 234 next fall, they will have more than new classmates to meet – they will also have a new principal. Sandy Bridges, the school’s principal for the past three years, is leaving her post to give birth to a baby boy, due this September.

“I’ve been working since I was 16 years old and this will be the first time I’m not working,” said the 38-year-old administrator, who taught at the Tribeca school for eight years before she assumed her current post, replacing Anna Switzer. “This time I have a new job and it’s to be a mom and it will be the hardest job I’ve ever had.”

Bridges, who married her longtime boyfriend, 38-year-old Matthew Lugar, last December, announced her resignation in a letter sent home to parents on June 1.

Parents responded well to the news. “The thing about parents in a school is they all have children – they’re the most sympathetic group of people,” Bridges said. “They say they’d like me to come back. It’s nice to be loved and it’s nice to be missed.”

But Bridges has no immediate plans to return to the 700-student school on Warren St. She and her husband plan to move to their country home in Connecticut in the fall. “I can’t imagine doing this [being a principal] and being a mommy,” she said. “It’s time for some new blood – let somebody else have a crack at it.”

That new blood will be Lisa Ripperger, a 37-year-old assistant principal at P.S. 183 on the Upper East Side. Parents met Ripperger at a P.T.A. meeting on Wednesday night and peppered her with questions about her educational philosophy, her thoughts on recent changes to citywide testing policies and her hopes for the Tribeca school.

“I’m an outsider coming in, although I think I feel very confident coming in,” she told a roomful of 75 parents, in her first public comments since getting the new assignment. Ripperger will be the first P.S. 234 principal not to come from within the school. “I think I share the beliefs of the community, I don’t have any hesitations about that.” She plans to spend three or four of the last 15 school days in this school year at P.S. 234.

Although the school usually scores well in citywide tests, parents did voice concerns about changing testing policies. “My prayer is that her successor will be able to hold the line against the number one enemy: testing anxiety,” P.S. 234 parent John Jiler told Downtown Express.

Ripperger attempted to ease parents’ concerns. “As a person responsible for disseminating tests and collecting tests, the thought of doing this to younger children is going to take not only a lot of parental and teacher activism, in terms of making those voices heard, but also some really smart ideas about what sort of gifts do we have, what can we bargain with, in terms of doing them [tests] at least in the most reasonable and developmentally appropriate way,” she said.

Ripperger first encountered P.S. 234 when Bridges interviewed her for an assistant principal position. She declined the job at the time, but kept in close contact with Bridges, who recommended Ripperger as her replacement. “I feel that because I had that experience with P.S. 30, I’m ready for being here in a way that possibly I wasn’t a few years ago,” Ripperger told Downtown Express of her decision not to take the P.S. 234 assistant principal position.

Bridges presided over a period of tremendous growth at the school, which is currently at 120 percent capacity. During her tenure, construction began on two new residential towers adjacent to and across the street from the school. Bridges advocated for sensible construction plans that would protect students from noise disruptions. A new 150-seat annex for the school will be built in one of the new towers. Earlier this year, funding for the annex was threatened when the mayor announced the city did not have the funds to build it and several other school construction projects. Again, Bridges was a vocal force for students, insisting that her small school, one of the best in the city, would falter if its crowding problems were not addressed.
The new annex, which is slated to open in 2007, will be “an unprecedented event” for any principal to oversee, said Bridges. Figuring out how to integrate the kindergarteners, who will be separated from other students in the new annex, with the rest of the school will be “a problem that would have been just as difficult for Lisa as it would have been for me.”

Parents took the news in stride. “It’s bittersweet,” P.S 234 P.T.A. president Kevin Doherty told Downtown Express. “It’s always disappointing when you lose a leader who you respect and admire.”



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