The following is a question and answer with new Asbury Park High School Principal Bridget O’Neill
Why did you choose to be an educator?
I started going to school thinking primarily that I wanted to go into social work. I work for the Department of Child Protection and Permanency, which was DFYS at the time, for a couple years and I also was a foster parent. I got the idea relatively quickly that there was more we could be doing to prevent children from going into services like that. I definitely thought that education was a part of that so that’s what drove me to be a teacher. Then as a teacher, I worked at Long Branch High School under some really great principals who pushed me to go back to graduate school and to get into leadership. From there I went to Columbia University.
What made you want to join the Asbury Park School District?
For me working in education has always been about investing in giving back to my community and the next generation of change-makers. I grew up locally in Red Bank and currently live in Hazlet with my family so Asbury Park is a part of that tight-knit Monmouth County community that feels like home.
In pursuing the principal role here, I wanted to be able to leverage my experiences leading successful schools with my network of local community support that I have here. My hope is that this combination will help bring excellence to the students and families of Asbury Park High School. Asbury Park’s business district is a thriving Jersey Shore hub featured in the likes of Vogue and Rolling Stone magazines and our school district deserves to be a part of that revitalization.
What are you goals/vision for the upcoming year?
My primary goals in my first year as principal are relationships, relationships, relationships. I understand the importance of building trust and collaboration. I aim to get to know all of our students, their families, and their community stakeholders to learn from them where are strongest and where we can still grow. I will be working this summer to get to know the teachers, coaches, and staff to understand what they need from me as their leader so that we can hit the ground running on those goals during our first year together.
Share a little bit about your previous experience?
I am a proud graduate of Brookdale Community College and New Jersey City University where I had awesome professors who nurtured me in reaching my dream of being a teacher. I learned so much teaching 9th and 12th grade English in Ocean County and then at Long Branch High School where I worked with a really incredible team of teachers and leaders who influenced me greatly. In 2016, I was awarded a prestigious Fulbright Fellowship to Malaysia where I led professional development with English teachers and founded a multi-state peer mentorship program for high school students. Following that experience, I knew I wanted to pursue becoming a principal and I attended graduate school at Columbia University where I was a part of the Teachers College Summer Principals Institute. From there, I was recruited by one of my professors to become an assistant principal at Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ) where I eventually was promoted to the high school principalship. HCZ is known as a groundbreaking public-charter school in part because of its wrap-around service model where medical, mental health, and socio-economic support is combined with rigorous academics. This approach greatly shaped me as a leader and I work tirelessly to provide students and families with anything we can to help them be successful. I will not give up on any child and believe that any child can and will be successful with enough support.
What do you love most about being a principal?
I love being a principal because each day brings something new. No two days in a school are ever alike and no day ever goes exactly as planned. As a principal, this keeps me on my toes and challenges me to keep everyone moving forward no matter the hiccups.
What would you like parents and members of the school community to know?
I would like my new Asbury Park family to know that it is my goal to support them and help them reach their goals. I want Asbury Park High School to be known for being a highly competitive high school that prepares our students expertly for their next chapter whether that be a top college or university, the workforce, or the military. Great things happen here already and we are going to expand that impact.
What is your greatest accomplishment?
Personally, I take great pride in my daughter, Edie, who has had significant medical challenges and was an organ transplant recipient at three months old. After a very difficult start to her life, she is thriving today and is a happy and healthy almost three-year-old.
Professionally, my greatest accomplishment is having a 100 percent graduation rate and 100 percent college admissions rate during my two years as principal of Harlem Children’s Zone. That meant that we got every student through high school in four-years and got every single student into a four-year college.
What inspires you?
Always being able to grow and change and don’t think that you’ve reached the limit to your potential. We are stronger by collaborating and coming together. What also inspires me is just pushing to get to know more people and learn the next great thing that we can do to help other people be successful. I love to unearth new ideas and try to help them come to fruition.