West Side Parent Always Working for P.S. 199

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fighting for schools is a fulltime 'job' for this mom

by mirva lempiainen

throughout high school, college and young adulthood, michelle ciulla lipkin was never the community activist type.

and yet now, at 39, the mother of two finds herself the co-president of the parent teacher association of p.s. 199 for the second year. lipkin spends up to three evenings per week sitting in meetings, trying to deal with issues like overcrowding and the presence of pcb toxins in schools.

"i never imagined this is how i'd be spending my time," she said.

the former tv producer for nickelodeon first entered the world of community organizing when her son started kindergarten three years ago. since then, she has been "in the thick of it all."

"it just kind of happened," said lipkin, who has a 6-year-old daughter in addition to her 8-year-old son. "suddenly i'm the president!"

it was her children's well-being that prompted lipkin to become involved in the school politics of the upper west side, a neighborhood she has lived in for almost half of the 20 years that she has spent in the city.

"once it's about your kids, you can't just sit back."

and sit back she doesn't: in addition to leading the pta together with diane brush, lipkin attends community education council meetings, is the district leadership team's parent representative and sits in the chancellor's parent advisory council.

"i don't do anything else besides this, it's my full-time job," she said.

not that lipkin has forgotten her old profession altogether. nowadays, she is pushing for schools to adopt a media education curriculum, something she feels passionate about.

"kids need to be prepared for the world they are living in."

lipkin wants to make sure her children, and others in the community, get the best start to their lives. the way to do that is to ensure that teachers can focus on teaching, while the pta will "fight the fights."

this often means coming home from the meetings after 8.30 p.m., much to the dismay of her kids.

"they'd prefer me home all the time. but that's not the kind of mommy i am," lipkin said, laughing cheerfully.

however, the pta president is happy that she doesn't have to go at it alone. both the principal and superintendent of p.s. 199 are very supportive of the association's initiatives, she said. "and the district as a whole has amazing parents. it's really inspiring to be around these people."

lipkin said she's a lover of both the upper west side and the public school system. "i wouldn't have my kids growing up anywhere else."

as for the reason why she was awarded a westy, lipkin said, "i imagine it's because i'm working my butt off!"

while it may have taken her a while to become a community activist, lipkin has now truly embraced the role.

"i really enjoy being a part of it all," she said. "i really think no one is getting rid of me now."

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