Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 30
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
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Profiles in Education

(Photo by Linda Arntzenius)
"I love it. The parents are very supportive and welcoming and the kids are a joy."
— Barbara Lippiett, Princeton Nursery School

Barbara Lippiett

Linda Arntzenius

Barbara Lippiett believes in fate. "Everything happens for a reason and some things are just meant to be," said the new Executive Director of Princeton Nursery School. The New Jersey native, who grew up in Rahway and now lives in Lambertville, sees a touch of serendipity in her discovery of a very small notice in the Star Ledger one Sunday last January. The ad announced an opening for a director at the Leigh Avenue school, which serves 44 children aged from two-and-a-half to five years.

The timing was perfect. Ms. Lippiett was anticipating retirement after16 years as principal of Kings Road Elementary School in Madison and a total of 32 years in public education. Knowing that she would not easily settle to life without challenges, she immediately threw her hat in the ring. "I'm a very active person and after having gone through a recent divorce and having decided to retire, I thought: what am I going to do with the rest of my life?"

Before Kings Road School, she served as principal of the Dickerson School in Chester and before that as an elementary classroom teacher. She has a bachelor's degree from Newark State College and a master's in education and administration and supervision from William Paterson University. With additional training at the Columbia Teachers' College and the Principal's Academy at Rutgers, as well as an American Family Institute Award for Excellence in Education, she was a natural candidate for the job.

After an interview with the school's board of trustees, and finding a rapport with the outgoing director Deirdre McCarthy, Ms. Lippiett took over at the school on July 2.

She had hoped to find time for a family vacation, but with Ms. McCarthy's departure on June 30, there wasn't much time for a handover. The two managed to work together for just three days in June after Ms. Lippiett paid a quick visit to her daughter Stacy and her granddaughters Elizabeth, 2, and Ashley, 5, in Colorado. Another daughter, Wendy, and granddaughters Meghan, soon to be 7, and Sarah, 12, all living in New Jersey, complete Ms. Lippiett's family.

In Good Hands

Ms. McCarthy, who retired after a decade at the school to focus on the care of elderly parents, offered her successor a great deal of support throughout the handover. She said that her reluctance to leave the school was tempered by the knowledge that it will be in Ms. Lippiett's the good hands. "This is an extraordinary place," she said. "I am always in awe of what goes on here every day. It's been a hard decision to leave, but with aging parents and the knowledge of how short life is, I feel comfortable in my decision."

"Deirdre gave me her cell phone and her home number and the first day, I probably called her about 20 times," said Ms. Lippiett, who describes her predecessor as a "dynamo who has been and will continue to be an enormous resource."

The two educators have found a great deal in common, both type A personalities and meticulous about order. "It's been a pleasure to find everything filed both in hard copy and on the computer. I've been able to answer a lot of questions simply by referring to Deirdre's extensive computer files.

"When I worked in public education, I had a superintendent, a business administrator, and a secretary. With a staff of 35 and 320 kindergarten through fifth-grade students, I was a master delegator," she said. Now with a staff of 6, serving 44 children, her task is much more hands-on. "Now it's just me. It's my job to put in the food order, to order supplies, and to collect tuition. This is all on a different scale from what I was used to and the socio-economic diversity is also different. There is a tremendous amount of paperwork that has to be filled out for the state. But if I have a question, I can usually find the answer by referring to Deirdre's computer documents, her files, or one of her notebooks."

At Princeton Nursery School, Ms. Lippiett, plans to continue many of the practices she established as a school principal. "At Kings Road School, I knew all the kids' names and was very visible in the classrooms. I felt it was important for me to be able to visit classes without interrupting classroom teaching. Here I try to visit each of the two classrooms every day." Princeton Nursery School has two classes arranged by age for three-year-olds and four-year-olds, each with a teacher and two teaching aides.

Having taken stock of her new role, Ms. Lippiett said that her goals are to focus on self-esteem, the way children treat one another, and to make sure that they look forward to coming to school each and every day. "It's wonderful to get them at this early age and foster a love for school in them before they go off to public school. From what I understand, Princeton Nursery School has always done a good job with that." Most of the children will go on to Community Park or Johnson Park schools.

Local Kids

The nursery school, which is funded by organizations such as United Way and private donations, serves neighborhood children, primarily from minority and low-income families. Because many of the children who attend are on scholarships, Ms. Lippiett said that there is a great deal of paperwork to submit to the state of New Jersey. She is also in charge of a number of grant applications. "Everything must be in order and on time because what is at stake here — attendance at the school — makes all the difference to a young child."

Founded in 1929, the school is dedicated to long-serving director Evangeline Miller, who was in charge from 1936 to 1973. A plaque recalls that she "loved every child as if each one were her own." Another plaque pays tribute to Mary Benning Moss, at the school from 1929 to 1954, and affectionately known as "Mommy" Moss. A small park on John Street is named for Ms. Moss.

A New Jersey girl who has always lived in the state — her father was a car painter with his own business in Westfield and her mother was a homemaker — Ms. Lippiett said she brings with her a sense of fun to her new role (as School Principal in Madison, she once donned a purple wig for an entire day as part of a fundraising activity).

When she doffs her educator's hat, she can be found biking or hiking the Delaware and Raritan Canal towpath close to her Lambertville home that is just a mile from the bridge to New Hope. Two years ago, she moved there from Morristown. "Lambertville still has a small town feel whereas Morristown is now much more cosmopolitan. My commute used to be at least an hour and 15 minutes each way, highway driving on routes 287 and 206." By comparison, her 35-minute commute along the back roads to Princeton "has become a daily pleasure."

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