L.R.E.I.’s new principal says school just felt right


By Lincoln Anderson

Dr. Tony Fisher

After 21 years at the Collegiate School for boys on the Upper West Side, as a student, math teacher and academic dean, Dr. Tony Fisher is moving down to the Village to become principal of Elisabeth Irwin High School on Charlton St. Technically, the 9-12 grade school is now known, along with Little Red Schoolhouse on Sixth Ave. and Bleecker St., four blocks away, collectively as L.R.E.I.

Fisher, 39, a math whiz, said he feels the private, progressive high school will be a good fit for him and that while Collegiate was a very traditional school where he excelled that he is really a progressive at heart.

There were offers from other schools. The Department of Educ-ation had even sought to get him an accelerated certification so he could be principal of a small, alternative dance school north of Union Sq. But as Fisher said in an interview last week, “This felt right.”

He gives as an example the way he used to teach math to fifth graders: He would give them a problem they could easily conceptualize that would engage them as a real-world issue. His favorite was an analysis of how the men’s and women’s times in the Boston Marathon are nearing. Will the women ever catch the men? The figures can justify both yes and no answers. It’s a progressive way to teach math, he said, noting, “It’s a subject that’s interesting and exciting and can be used to interpret the world.”

Similarly, at L.R.E.I., Fisher said he looks forward to an environment where students can diverge a bit from high-pressured curricula designed to prepare students for achievement tests, which can provide college course credit. For example, L.R.E.I. students in a chemistry class can take a little time to study a wild mushroom they find growing where students at other schools may not. To those students who really care about chemistry as a long-term goal, they’ll eventually make up any material they didn’t learn and fill in any gaps, Fisher said.

A lifelong Upper West Sider, Fisher attended Yale and the University of Chicago graduate school where he majored in math. He spent five years studying for his Ph.D. It was a professor factory, he was well aware. But returning to teach math at Collegiate, Fisher found he liked it and quickly found himself moving into an administrative role.

At L.R.E.I. he’ll have to get used to being called Tony instead of Dr. Fisher, since students are on a first-name basis with teachers and administrators.

He is married to an ABC national news assignment editor and they have two young children, including a daughter who Fisher plans to enter at L.R.E.I. next year.

The idea of using the L.R.E.I. name is to establish a sense of cohesiveness between the lower and middle schools and the upper school. Typically, not all students from Little Red have gone on to Elisabeth Irwin and the school would like to change that. Also, the high school hopes to expand with the addition or construction of a new building. The plan is ultimately to expand the high school enrollment from 110 to 240.

The high school is located in a former church or parochial school building with high ceilings but limited classroom space.

“It’s still in many ways, a Village school,” Fisher said of L.R.E.I., “in the sense that lots of artists, people in the film industry, people in the music industry — I don’t want to mention names — send their kids here.”

In a bookcase by the school’s entranceway are works written by some of the school’s distinguished alumni, including Angela Davis, Victor Navasky, William Loren Katz and Ronald Radosh, on subjects like civil rights and feminism, Native Americans, economics and race, Cuba.

Under Fisher’s guidance, the next generation of L.R.E.I. achievers will grow and blossom in their own interesting ways with a bit of flexibility compared to traditionally structured schools — a bit like that funky mushroom he mentioned.