If you’re looking for New Paltz High School’s new assistant principal, don’t expect to find her behind a desk all day. “I’m a very mobile person,” says Tara Ryba. “I will be everywhere and anywhere.”
In addition to greeting students in the morning as they arrive at school — “one of my favorite things to do” — she plans to make regular classroom visits and be a visible presence at lunchtime and dismissal, where meeting the students on their turf creates different types of relationships than those built in the more official environs of the classroom and office, Ryba explains. “I want students to know who I am. Positive relationships are the foundation of any strong and productive learning community, and it’s important to layer those positive interactions and build trust before we have to do something more official in my office.”
This philosophy has served her well over the past eleven-plus years. Most recently an assistant principal for the New York City Department of Education, Ryba began her career as a social studies teacher, moving on to become a dean of students before taking on an assistant principal role. She has worked in three of the five boroughs of New York City, starting in Queens — where she grew up in Douglaston, not far from Bayside — moving on to schools in Crown Heights, Brooklyn and the Bronx.
“Leaving the city and coming to New Paltz is a big change for me, obviously, but it couldn’t be a better choice,” Ryba says. “And actually, it’s the only choice. There are so many of the same benefits of city life and culture here. The intellectualism and history along with the nature… it’s just a really rich area for all of those things.”
As a dean, Ryba’s focus was primarily on the students. Assistant principals, on the other hand, have that responsibility as well as the requirement to take charge of staff needs. “The range of things you’re dealing with by the hour is much different,” she says. “As a dean, you know your realm. But as assistant principal, everything is your realm, at the principal’s side.”
After working so closely with children for so long, it was a transition to make the change, she says. “Automatically my heart and my mind went right to the student. But you realize the students can be in a better position if more adults are in a good position to support them. It became my role as assistant principal to help develop adults to be able to have those important interactions with students.”
In bringing that philosophy to New Paltz High School, Ryba says she considers herself at this point to be a servant-leader. “I hope that, over time, as I develop into this new assistant leader of a school community, that servant-leadership can transcend into transformational leadership, where people really look up to you and they’re inspired by you. But I don’t think someone can get there overnight. You can’t really become inspirational until you’ve proven to people that you are trustworthy and reliable. And that your actions are aligned with your philosophies. So it’s a lot of modeling, and rolling up your sleeves, and getting in and doing the work with the team, and with the people you’re leading. Not just giving directives… but showing them, modeling it as necessary.”
When asked for her thoughts about the ongoing discussion between district administrators and the New Paltz Board of Education on identifying parameters for student success, Ryba says she believes success looks different for each student. “I think each student has a different path or vision for their own success, and it’s important to treat each student as an individual. There are collective goals and expectations that we have as a school district, but it’s really important to find out what a particular student is meant to do or is striving to do and support them any way we can in doing that.”
And that support goes far beyond academics, she adds. “I think it’s also about social, emotional development and citizenship. Making them feel that we understand who they are as an individual and what they want to pursue, and know how we can support them in doing that.”
The parents in the New Paltz district are very active in their push-back against the state-mandated tests, this reporter noted. Does Ryba see a challenge in that? “I don’t see it as a challenge. Or if it is, it’s a positive challenge,” she responds. “I’ve always worked in communities where there was a very strong core group of parents, but the wider population of parents was a little harder to partner with. Hearing that the parents are so involved here makes me really excited, because it’s what I’ve been asking for, for years. I have really wished to be able to have that interaction.”
At the end of the day, Ryba says, the school exists for the students. “That’s why I’m here, that’s why the teachers are here. We always have to keep the parents in mind, but if we know what the goals and priorities are, there’s no reason why we can’t find a way to come together to make the decisions that need to be made. Parents have a unique perspective; different than an administrator’s or a teacher’s, and it’s valuable. It needs to be incorporated into the way we make decisions, so I’m open to meeting with parents, talking with them, and listening. Letting them know that this is a true partnership.”
Outside of school duties, Ryba enjoys cooking, when she has the time, and travel. Her love of the outdoors — parks, trails, beaches and camping — means that New Paltz looks pretty attractive as her new locale. She was already familiar with the area, in fact, from weekends and day trips here.
Currently residing in North Yonkers as a single mom to son Julian, 7, Ryba hopes the two of them will make the move to this area next year in a process gradual enough to make the move less abrupt for her son. In the meantime, they’ve been enjoying a “staycation” while she settles into her new position, checking out Split Rock up at Mohonk and just having fun walking up Main Street. “He already loves it here,” she says. “And my dream is to be living here!”
Ryba has a bachelor’s degree in social sciences from Adelphi University in Garden City on Long Island. Her master’s is also from Adelphi, in adolescent and social studies education. In addition, she has an advanced leadership certificate — a few credits shy of being another master’s degree — in school building and school district leadership from the College of Saint Rose in Albany.
The new assistant principal says she feels very welcome in the New Paltz district. “Every interaction that I’ve had with people here has been really positive. And that makes me feel that this was a great choice. Superintendent [Maria] Rice and deputy superintendent Michelle Martoni have been so enthusiastic about me joining the district, and my principal [Barbara Clinton] has been an inspiration. I’m excited to learn from her and have a new mentor and grow professionally as a result of that. I’ve also met several teachers, and that’s a good sign of the culture of the building, to see so many teachers here in the summer. It feels like a really great fit.”
Along with the sense of community she feels within the district is a sense of cohesion, Ryba adds. “And that isn’t true everywhere. I think the vision and the mission of the district is really clear in New Paltz, and there is a lot of intentional effort put out to get all constituencies involved to really understand and live by it. And that doesn’t happen everywhere; all districts have their mission statements and put those words on paper, but what I find distinct about New Paltz, so far, is a concerted effort to make it be alive. That’s really exciting to me.”