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New Pound Ridge Principal Ready For Challenges

POUND RIDGE, N.Y. – When the doors to the Pound Ridge Elementary School swing open this week for the first day of school, students will be greeted by a new face.

Tim Gembka has taken over the reins as school principal in the wake of Peter Politi’s retirement earlier this summer.

Gembka was born in Brooklyn and started his education career there as a high school math teacher. But when he and his wife had twin daughters, he knew he had to look into other industry opportunities that would bring in more income.

He eventually landed a post as an assistant principal at Westside High School, an alternative school in Manhattan. From there, the family moved to Yorktown in 1997 and he found a job in the Ossining School District as a math coordinator for grades 6-12. During that tenure, he took on the job as a summer principal for the elementary program and discovered his true calling.

“I really enjoyed that,” Gembka said. “Then an opening came up for principal at Claremont Elementary. I applied and I got it and was principal there for eight years.”

In 2008, a colleague told Gembka about an opening at a charter school in Brooklyn, his old hometown, for which he thought the principal would be a good fit. It was, and Gembka took the job.

“But then they had a change of leadership and philosophies and it was time for me to move on,” he said.

After searching hundreds of candidates, the Bedford Board of Education couldn’t find the right person to fill Politi’s shoes. So, it put out an advertisement for an interim principal and Gembka was hired.

“This is my first interim position,” Gembka said. “How do I approach it? I look at it like a baseball free agent with a one-year deal who can bring a championship to the team.”

Gembka said he would be amenable to taking the position on full-time, but said he didn’t want to be presumptuous.

“It’s a great school district and a good opportunity,” he said. “I will approach the job the same way I would [a permanent position].”

The challenge, Gembka said, is that he doesn’t have the luxury to get to know everybody gradually and will have to be expeditious in making connections as well as policy.

“The biggest challenge is I have to get to know the kids and parents and the culture of the school,” he said. “I have to be more visible and get out there. But my level of experience allows me to manage the job itself in a seamless fashion.”

From an administrative point, Gembka said specific challenges include rolling out the new state-required common core curriculum.

“There’s been a move toward a national common curriculum,” he said. “We are transitioning now and getting everyone familiar with it. It kicks in next year.”

He said state law on how teachers are evaluated is also changing – a lawsuit just dictated teachers can’t be judged by their students’ test scores. So Gembka said he will have to stay on top of those developments.

However, the new principal feels he is as ready as he will ever be for the beginning of the new school year.

“It’s been a very welcoming environment,” he said. “The Pound Ridge staff and district staff and parents have been very positive. It’s a committed staff and the parents are highly involved.”

Are you a Pound Ridge Elementary School parent? Have you met Tim Gembka yet? Share your thoughts with us on Twitter or Facebook : http://www.facebook.com/#!/TheDailyPoundRidge

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