Michaelson Guides St. Matthew’s Parish School

Alley (Bartholomew) Michaelson is the head of school at Saint Matthew’s/

Saint Matthew’s Parish School is in lovely and capable hands with new head of school Alley (Bartholomew) Michaelson who stepped into the position in July.

This past Tuesday, she spoke to the Palisades Optimist Club. “Palisades is a unique place,” she said, “so many of us have a one degree of separation.” Several members knew her parents, or had children who had grown up with her or belonged to the Bel Air Bay Club where she was married.

As a child, Michaelson, who attended Saint Matthew’s through eighth grade and who worked at the summer camp, has come home. She is St. Matthew’s ninth Head of School and the first alumna to assume the role.

Her parents Zena, a licensed psychotherapist, and Bart, a photographer, still live in the Alphabet Streets where she grew up.

Her path back to the Palisades was circuitous. After attending Marymount High School, she attended the University of Michigan, with the intention of going pre-med, but calculus and chemistry weren’t as appealing as psychology.

Through the psychology department, she started working with incarcerated youth, it was there she first heard about Teach for America (TFA). After graduating in 2010, she began her teaching career in Chicago public schools.

TFA’s mission: “finds, develops and supports equity-oriented leaders to transform education and expand opportunity for all children.” It was a minimum two-year commitment, but Michaelson stayed five years – and tried to bring the same opportunities that students at St. Matthew’s had to her inner-city students.

She remembered an eighth-grade trip that she had taken to Washington, DC and to New York. Querying her St. Matthew’s teachers about an itinerary, she sought to replicate the experience for her lower-economic students. Then she had to raise money to take sixty 17-year-old students on a bus to the East Coast.

“It was the experience of a lifetime,” she said. While in Chicago, in 2012, she received her master’s in teaching/special education from National Louis University.

As a teacher, she was recognized for her leadership abilities, her perseverance, and the ability to get a job done.

She attended Harvard University in 2016, where she received her master’s degree in education, with a focus in school leadership. Simultaneously to her studies, she was working at Franks Zervas Elementary in Newton, Massachusetts, as a principal intern.

While at Harvard, she met her future husband. After they married at the Bel Air Bay Club, he started a job in Washington, D.C., and she followed him, working as staff for Teach for America.

When he was accepted to graduate school in Ann Arbor, she moved back to Michigan and became assistant principal at Anderson and McGrath Elementary School in Grand Blanc.

She remembers being called into officer and asked, “Kid, I’m firing the principal, do you want the job?”

“Yes,” she said, and instantly became the principal.

No sooner had the couple become established in Michigan, than her husband got a job in New York City.

Michealson joined him and found a job as principal in New Lebanon Elementary School, in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Under her leadership, New Lebanon School was recognized as a Connecticut State School of Distinction, and she was awarded the Anne Firestone Ball Family Champion Award from Family Centers of Fairfield County.

The couple lived in New York City, and Michealson commuting every day to Greenwich. She was about eight months pregnant with her son, when she received an email from Saint Matthews.

Her son was five months old, when she flew back Pacific Palisades for 24 hours for a quick interview.

Barely back in New York, she received a text “You’re one of two finalists for the job,” she was told. “If you get it, we need a commitment.”

She was interviewed and 48 hours later had received a job offer. She joked with her husband that she had moved three times for him and now he got to move for her.  He was happy to come to the Palisades.

“The ultimate joy is being able to come back to serve the community that raised you,” Michaelson said. “St. Matthew’s is an exceptional place.”

The motto at Saint Matthew’s is “Serve, lead, flourish, and children abide by a character covenant,” Michaelson said.

“I’m inspired to launch St. Matthew’s into its next phase,” she said. “It’s a new era and a new chapter.”

She was asked how she bridged the gap when she taught in the inner-city.

“You have to reach before you teach,” she said. “It’s all about building relationships.”

She said at low-economic schools, teachers learned what they could do with what they had.

The obstacles those kids faced were interconnected and included the health care system, a lack of after-school opportunities and no summer-school experiences.

Those are items families here take for granted.

When she accepted the position, Interim Head of School Stu Work commented, “St. Matthew’s is truly fortunate to have this talented educator leading the School.”

In addition to teaching, her interests include yoga, competitive water skiing, swimming, cooking and traveling.

“I am overjoyed and grateful to return to St. Matthew’s as the Head of School,” she said. “I’m happy to be back in the Palisades.”

St. Matthew’s Parish School is located in Pacific Palisades.

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