Bridget O'Connell reading to students

Lehigh alum Bridget O'Connell was named the 2022 Pennsylvania Superintendent of the Year.

2022 Pennsylvania Superintendent of the Year Bridget O’Connell Builds Relationships, Community Culture

The Lehigh alum draws on her experiences in the classroom, as an athlete and as a graduate assistant.

Bridget O’Connell ’95, ’97G, ’07 Ph.D. wasn’t originally slated to attend Lehigh but can confidently say that she made the right decision after being recruited to run for the track and field team. As a three-time graduate–earning her undergraduate, master’s and doctoral degrees all from Lehigh—O’Connell credits many of her experiences at Lehigh to her current professional success as a superintendent. “There was no way I could’ve known it at the time, but many of the skills I learned through being an athlete, coaching track as a graduate assistant, and in the classroom at Lehigh are all used every day as a superintendent.”

Currently superintendent of Palisades School District in Upper Bucks County, Pennsylvania, O’Connell has been diligent about academic success, promoting student wellness and enhancing the curriculum through the use of technology, which includes an online learning academy for students that launched over ten years ago. Her focus centers on her deep passion for the classroom, students and building lasting relationships with every interaction.

Joe Helble with Bridget O'Connell and her daughters

Bridget O'Connell ’95, ’97G, ’07 Ph.D. enjoys the President's Tailgate with her daughters and Lehigh President Joseph J. Helble ’82 before the 157th meeting between the Lehigh and Lafayette football teams.

All of this work has garnered her not just the superintendent title, but the state of Pennsylvania’s Superintendent of the Year for 2022, and during a pandemic, nonetheless. “[The award] has my name on it, but it’s really about our entire team of people.” O’Connell continues, “I love my job for so many reasons. When I work with students, I want to hear from them what’s going well and what they would like to see change. From that feedback we are often able to do something about it.”

With that same energy for caring about people, she creates an opportunity during each team meeting for everyone to share what’s going well personally and professionally, “I look forward to this part of each meeting,” O’Connell says. “I love hearing about what is going well in each coworker’s life, especially during challenging times when we could just dwell on the negative.”

O’Connell’s classes at Lehigh in English and anthropology as an undergraduate student, and then educational leadership at the master’s and doctoral level, all drove home the idea that the culture of a community, or in O’Connell’s case, a school system, is crucial to creating a successful work and learning environment. O’Connell has strong values that revolve around teamwork, bringing people together, networking, connection and leadership. She says the Educational Leadership Program in the College of Education prepared her in a number of ways. “I always joke that the only class I [could have used at] Lehigh is one in meteorology,” O’Connell says, noting it would come in handy when she has to make inclement weather calls for the school system.

Bridget O'Connell prior to the Lehigh Lafayette game

Bridget O'Connell ’95, ’97G, ’07 Ph.D. holds a Lehigh football helmet at the President's Tailgate prior to the 157th edition of The Rivalry.

It was also through her positive experiences as a student-athlete that she earned an opportunity to serve as a team captain and began to understand what leadership looks like. She credits this as one of the many defining moments of her time at Lehigh. As a leader you’re, “Constantly considering how to communicate and being intentional about creating the space to do so in order to bring people together and work as a group.” O’Connell says much of that practice started as a captain, and then as a graduate assistant, with the track and field team.

O’Connell’s advice for anyone looking to obtain a leadership position is by gaining experience by finding leadership opportunities within activities they’re already interested in. She also welcomed those interested in teaching to contact her.

An Easton, Pennsylvania, native, O’Connell continues to stay connected to Lehigh by teaching as an adjunct professor, serving on dissertation committees and as chair of the Lehigh Study Council for the College of Education. She also is the 1995 class correspondent for Lehigh’s Alumni Bulletin. She especially enjoys attending sporting events, and was thrilled to be able to bring her daughters to the 157th edition of The Rivalry between Lehigh and Lafayette in November.

And as Lehigh celebrates 50 years of coeducation, O’Connell reflected on the milestone saying that the opportunities women currently have are a gift from the women who came before them.

Story by Emily VanNostrand

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