The deal was he would stay for six months while the school conducted a search for a permanent principal. Six months turned into three years, and the “interim” tag was dropped along the way.
“I got a little nervous when they took off the ‘interim,’” Ridley joked. “I didn’t know how long I would end up here.”
Truth be told, he loved every minute of the experience.
“I enjoyed it immensely,” said Ridley, who spent 34 years in Lynn schools as a teacher, principal and coach, and did two short stints as an interim principal after he retired. “I had the option of leaving at any time. I hope my stay was as rewarding for students and refreshing for staff as it was for me.”
By all accounts, it certainly was.
“We will be forever grateful for what Jim did for St. Mary’s,” said Board of Trustees chair William Mosakowski. “We knew we were getting a well-respected educator, but he exceeded all expectations. He was a stabilizing influence from the day he arrived.”
“Jim Ridley has become a valued member of the St. Mary’s family,” Newhall said. “The students love him and the staff respects him. His leadership style fit in perfectly with our school.”
Ridley admittedly did not know what to expect in his first foray into a non-public school. He was not disappointed.
“In a way it brought me back to when I started teaching in 1976, when principals had the opportunity to be in classrooms almost daily," he said. "Without high-stakes standardized testing and reporting being such a focus, you have the time to get to know students and faculty on a personal level.”
What also struck Ridley about St. Mary’s is the culture of caring that permeates the school.
“To give back to others less fortunate is something that is promoted here,” said Ridley, pointing to the efforts led by campus ministry, including Rachel’s Challenge. “It’s part of what they do on a daily basis.”
Ridley also has an interesting take on how the school’s Catholic identity affects the culture.
“All schools teach the difference between right and wrong, but here it can be taught from a perspective of religion,” he said. “You can talk about God and really get to the reasons for doing the right thing.”
To be sure, however, kids are kids and, while St. Mary’s students are certainly not immune from making bad choices, Ridley said. “There are not a lot of discipline issues” to deal with.
“It’s a college-prep environment and the students are really aware of what’s next," he said. "I tried to stress to them it’s not just about going to college, but going to the college of their choice.”
Athletics has played a major role in Ridley’s life, so it’s no surprise that he was a regular at St. Mary’s games throughout the school year. He even found himself broadening his horizons.
“I was never a hockey guy, but I started following the hockey teams and I really enjoyed it,” he said. “I love the girls' game because it’s so technical.”
Ridley said he’s grateful to his wife, Anne, Mosakowski, Regan, Newhall, assistant principal Jade Henne and executive assistant Patricia Gill for supporting his St. Mary’s endeavor. He is happy to turn over the keys to new head of school Dr. John Dolan and assistant head of school David Angeramo. As for what’s next, he said he would revert to 2010 mode.
“I’ll stay busy enough,” he said, noting that he serves on several boards, including the Lynn Teachers’ Credit Union, Lynn Tech Alumni Association and Massachusetts School Administrators’ Association. And you can be certain you will see him in the stands at St. Mary’s games, proudly wearing the blue and gold.