risa-clayRBR veteran Risa Clay took over as principal on May 5. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)


When Risa Clay entered the world of education 17 years ago, she never gave a thought to climbing the administrative ladder.

Busting through a glass ceiling wasn’t on her mind, either.

But as if she hadn’t already cemented a lauded reputation for helping bring the highly popular student assistance program, The Source, to Red Bank Regional, Clay has one-upped herself.

The private sector counselor-turned-educator is now the first female principal in the high school’s history — a distinction she said is surprising, yet one she bears with honor.

“It’s important, and it’s something that, to me, is kind of amazing,” Clay said.

But it’s not a role needing any kind of break-in period. Since October, Clay was the school’s acting principal, a slot she was appointed to during a tectonic shift in administration at RBR. Until that time, she was assistant principal, but when principal Jim Stefankiewicz announced his departure to take a job as assistant superintendent in Middletown, Clay stepped in. This was also around the time that Howard Lucks took the reigns as superintendent following the retirement of Edward Westervelt.

“I took this seriously every single day,” she said. “I never really thought about it as ‘acting.’ From the day I walked into this office, I had to get it done.”

She hasn’t had a whole lot of time to reflect, either, until pressed by reporters to do so.

Clay was on a much different career path two decades ago. With her business and counseling education, she spent time in human relations, business and finance, and, until she made the jump into education, was working as a counselor for teenagers at a hospital. That’s where she found her passion — working with children and teenagers — and, against the advice of her parents, who told her there wasn’t financial stability in education, Clay dove into the stressful but rewarding realm as an assistant student counselor.

“I ended up in education, which is kind of prophetic,” she said, explaining that she had always wanted to become a teacher.

Ironically, perhaps, in her time at RBR, she hasn’t taught a single class. From her entry-level role as a counselor, Clay moved up the ranks and commanded projects like The Source and the school’s English as a second language program.

“When I started on this path, I never thought about being the principal or assistant principal,” she said. “I really only started this because I wanted to help kids.”

And here she is, right where she wants to be, she says. As principal, she gets to help shape policy and guide students onto their life paths. Her goals include continuing to build upon the school’s college prep programs, enhancing and expanding summer classes and, especially in the next year or so, working on staff morale.

“Because it’s been a really tough year to be an educator,” she said.

But Clay has never really been one to look too far down the road, she says. Life is full of twists and turns, she said, so she prefers to take it day by day.

“I’m just set on doing my job and doing it well,” Clay said. “The day goes so quickly and there’s so much to be done. We have so many challenges ahead of us. My focus has really always been on the kids.”