Volume 16 • Issue 14 | September 2 - 8, 2003



New principal takes on the crowds

By Elizabeth O’Brien

Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert

Sandy Bridges, principal of P.S. 234, has 710 students enrolled for a 585-student building.

Sandy Bridges has the front office to herself now.

Last spring, the new P.S. 234 principal shared the spacious office with Anna Switzer, the beloved principal who left the school in June to head City Hall Academy. Bridges sat at a small side desk during her four-month stint as an assistant principal, but she has since moved to a center desk fit for a C.E.O.

That doesn’t mean Switzer is far away, though. City Hall Academy, a learning center for students throughout the city, lies just east of P.S. 234 at the Tweed Courthouse on Chambers St. And the two women talk every day.

“Anna and I have a wonderful, wonderful relationship,” Bridges said. “I like calling her.”

Bridges faces several challenges as she prepares her Tribeca elementary school for the start of classes on Sept. 8. The mayor’s public school overhaul has changed the entire chain of command in the city’s educational administration, leaving individual schools, principals and parents to relearn whom to contact with questions or feedback. On a more local level, P.S. 234 must deal with overcrowding this year. As of Friday, 710 students were enrolled at school, which has a capacity of 585.

But Bridges feels confident she can handle these and other potential problems.

“I’ll panic when I have a tangible reason,” she said with a laugh.

A hip 35, Bridges looks nothing like the matronly schoolmarm that many conjure up when they think “principal.” Wearing flip-flops and her long, Breck-ad blond hair loose, Bridges looked like the student teacher she once was at P.S. 234.

“She was really open to the kids,” said Larry Tell, whose daughter had Bridges in fourth and fifth grades several years ago. “She in a way was able to both be an educator and a pal at the same time, which took a lot of creativity and energy on her part.”

Bridges has spent most of her educational career at P.S. 234. She began as a student teacher when she was studying at Bank Street College of Education, and then went on to teach full-time in the second and third and fourth and fifth grades. In June of 2002, she left the school to take an administrative job at Midtown West.

Her brief tenure there taught her that that she didn’t need to have all the answers, but she did need to learn where to find them, Bridges said.

“I feel for the first year I can have lots of questions,” Bridges said.

She said that the city’s school upheaval left her at less of a disadvantage than the more established principals. Everything is new, so she won’t have to relearn as much as those who had years of experience with the old system, she explained.

Bridges will enjoy at least one constant in the P.S. 234 curriculum. The school, consistently ranked among the city’s best, was granted a two-year waiver from adopting the mayor’s uniform math and literacy lessons. Bridges said that Switzer has left her with the unspoken challenge to continue the school’s academic excellence as well as to create a nurturing, professional environment for teachers.

One new element this year will be an increased focus on math instruction, Bridges said. Schools citywide will have an extra 50-minute class each Tuesday, and Bridges said that she plans to use the time largely for math. The school’s new assistant principal, Elizabeth Sweeney, is a former math specialist for Community School District 2.

As for the overcrowding, Bridges said that the school would just scrape by this year using every inch of spare space. The new music room is an old dishwashing room, Bridges said. It’s windowless but perfect for trumpets, she added.

But solutions, both short-term and long, must be found to the problem of overcrowding at P.S. 234, Bridges said. With more than 8,000 residential units slated for construction south of Canal St., the problem is expected to get worse. Bridges said she opposes a parent-led idea to build an addition onto the school, which was floated in early summer.

“I am adamantly opposed to increasing the school’s size,” Bridges said.

Adding onto the building would only invite more students to come, she said. And this will limit her ability to support staff and students alike. Bridges said she knows the names of most students at the school, but this personal touch will become lost if the enrollment balloons any further.

Despite the challenges, Bridges said she feels a lot of support as she begins her new role. The parents have respected her new authority, she said. In addition to Switzer, Barbara Gambino, the local instructional supervisor overseeing P.S 234, has proved very responsive, she added.

Bridges said that the school’s proven track record will undoubtedly help her as she begins charting her own course in response to the school’s changing needs.

“People generally pull together in this community to make it work out,” Bridges said.

Elizabeth@DowntownExpress.com


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