An Interview with the New Upper School Head: Ricky Lapidus

An+Interview+with+the+New+Upper+School+Head%3A+Ricky+Lapidus

Cassidy Vawter

On Jan. 19, I had the opportunity to conduct an interview with Ricky Lapidus, the School’s new Upper School Head, over email. Ranging from his background careers, to his plans for supporting students who have historically felt unheard at Head Royce, our interview provides a deeper look into Lapidus and his future in this important role. 

 

Lapidus: My name is Ricky Lapidus, and I’m currently the Dean of Faculty at Riverdale Country School in the Bronx, New York City. I’ve been at Riverdale for 15 years as an English teacher, English department chair, and in my current role. Before Riverdale I taught at a Quaker school in Philadelphia and a boarding school in western Massachusetts.

Vawter: What are you most excited for as the new Upper School Head? 

Lapidus: I’m excited to learn about Head-Royce. I’m looking forward to getting to know people and to becoming a part of the community. I know how bland that sounds, but it’s true! Education is deeply relational, and that sort of normalcy and understanding is essential to me both to do my job well and to do it happily.

Vawter: I see that one of your goals for next year is to meet and have meaningful interactions with every Head-Royce Upper School student, and I am curious what this will be like if classes are still over zoom? 

Lapidus: I think in a funny way that Zoom can actually be easier as a way to have a conversation. While it takes more work on the front end (setting up times, sending invites), people have quickly become used to the weirdness of looking at someone through a screen. You actually are looking at someone’s face perhaps more thoughtfully and with more care than some in-person moments where it can feel like you’re not sure where to sit or stand and there are other distractions. I will have to find a way to seek people out if we’re stuck in hybrid learning, it’s true, but I think making my way through advisories is a good way to do so. I also hope to sit in on a lot of classes so I can reach out and follow up with students that I’ve met before. 

None of this will be the equivalent of coming in person to a soccer practice or a choral concert, but I’m not shy and I’m reasonably creative. I also really, truly want students to reach out to me and say, “Let me tell you what is going on in my life,” or “Let me tell you what’s on my mind about Head-Royce.” What I hope is that students will feel like I’m approachable and that I care, and I believe that knowledge will propagate.

Vawter: What will your first actions steps be once you have taken over the role as Head of the Upper School?

Lapidus:  I know that I have a lot to learn, so I’m going to figure out how to learn what is necessary. I’ve heard references to some of the tension you’re alluding to in your subsequent questions, and while these are not frustrations unique to Head-Royce, they clearly are essential to the school community.

Vawter: What was your experience at Riverdale and how did it lead you to Head-Royce? 

Lapidus: I’ve loved Riverdale. It’s a great school and while I’m sure it’s not the same as Head-Royce, I do see things that the two have in common. But my favorite part of Riverdale after all these years is that I never taught a class that was met with apathy. I’m not saying my students loved every minute of my teaching or that of my colleagues, but they cared and they wanted to learn. I get the feeling that Head-Royce is the same way – that education matters as much to the students as it does to the teachers.

Vawter: A lot of students quickly lost trust in the administration over these past few years as HRS fails to hear, support, and value students of color. What steps will you take to help rebuild trust in academic settings and help work towards a safer, more inclusive community?

Lapidus: I can’t speak to what came before me, but I do know that communities around the country and around the world are grappling with trust, truth, and justice and what those words mean in a world that has deeply ingrained systems of power built to hold down black and brown people. I know that we face our own struggle at Riverdale in this regard, so it doesn’t surprise me to hear you say that a similar struggle exists at Head-Royce.

I don’t want to offer a shallow, pithy answer. What I can say is that I will work enthusiastically and thoughtfully with the professional community and the student community to be transparent in my values and to do all I can to align my actions and those taken within the scope of the Upper School to promote ‘scholarship, diversity, and citizenship.’

I hope those words are meaningful to the school. I believe they deserve to be.

Vawter: To be frank, many students have expressed concern that this role was filled by a white man who does not represent their voices. How will you ensure you can be an adequate spokesperson, support system, and advocate for communities you do not represent — especially considering the high tension in the HRS community surrounding white supremacy, heteronormativity, misogyny, rape culture, sexual assault, etc? 

Lapidus: On the one hand, like everyone, I hope to be judged for myself and for my actions. However, it would be naive or disingenuous (maybe even both?) to not understand how my identity has been helpful to me over the course of my life, both professionally and personally. So when I think about white privilege or my status as a cis, straight male, I try to remember the words a wise friend once said: “It’s not your fault, but it is your responsibility.” Those words resonate. 

I don’t seek to be a “spokesperson” for BIPOC students or adults. What I can and must do is listen and use my privilege to be an ally, and an ally who has the ability to help create change that is meaningful and lasting. I have privilege to spend and I hope to spend it by amplifying the voices of others.