UP CLOSE: Northwood’s new innovation officer puts down roots in Adirondacks

Stacy McCoy Prime (Photo provided)

LAKE PLACID — About six months into the coronavirus pandemic, Stacy McCoy Prime and her family decided to pack up their lives in the Bronx and travel to the Adirondacks to stay with relatives. Now, they’re living here full time.

Prime, 37, said the stigma around moving back in with parents seemed to dissipate during the pandemic, and the option of working remotely gave people a “runway” — time to transition from one place to another, look for a new job and a new home, and put down roots.

Last year, as the days in isolation ticked by and New York City continued to be the epicenter of the pandemic in the U.S., more and more of Prime’s friends started leaving the city to live with relatives and in-laws. After half a year stuck at home in the Bronx with her kids, she said she was “going crazy.”

Prime got married in Lake Placid, and her husband’s family has had ties to Lake Placid for generations. This place has been on her mind for some time.

“I always had this fantasy of living up here and working up here, but I was also very much like, ‘Yeah, it sounds pretty hard to blow up your life and get new jobs and find a new home and change everything about your life,'” she said on Wednesday, July 14. “But then the pandemic … you know, in times of mass disruption, anything goes.

“It was a great opportunity to kind of test out a new life without actually committing to it,” she added. “We got to come up and live in the Elizabethtown-Westport area, in the Champlain Valley, and live with our in-laws in this beautiful home that my husband’s dad built himself. We fell in love. We were like, ‘We can’t go back. We need to make it work up here.'”

‘Big life decisions’

Mass-industry closures and advisories against travel last year shifted — or completely derailed — the way millions of New Yorkers lived and worked prior to the pandemic. It also shifted what many people like Prime thought about their lives and the possibilities for their futures.

An analysis of U.S. Postal Service data by CBRE, a real estate service and investment firm, shows the pandemic accelerated an ongoing outflow of residents from densely populated, expensive metropolises like New York City to less-populated areas.

Prime and her family officially moved to the Adirondacks in September 2020.

“We spent the year trying to figure out … OK, now we need to get a house up here, we’ve got to get jobs up here, we have to figure out which schools we’re going to send our kids to, those big life decisions,” she said.

Dream job

Doing research on school districts for her kids also provided Prime with the opportunity to look around for jobs.

Prime, a native of Grand Rapids, Michigan, was an English major at the University of Michigan. She has master’s degrees in school leadership and secondary English education, and she worked in public schools for about a decade. She taught at the Bronx Guild High School for five years before she became the founding principal of the Bronx Compass High School, where she worked for more than five years.

Prime ultimately enrolled her sons in Lakeside School in Essex, where they were able to attend school in person and feel a little more protected against COVID-19. Her own opportunity in education came when she discovered a job listing for a teaching position at Lake Placid’s Northwood School. A conversation with Northwood’s head of school led to another job, one that the school hadn’t advertised yet.

That job, chief innovation officer at Northwood School, was what Prime described as a “dream job.” And she got it.

“(Northwood Head of School Michael Maher) really had a vision to build more innovation and bring more opportunities to this area, while also transforming the school,” Prime said, sitting in the lobby of the school’s Innovation Hub on Main Street. “I was really attracted to the opportunity to engage with both school transformation and also build out this community space that’s about co-creation and innovation.”

Prime’s first day on the job was July 1. Even with school not in session right now, the Innovation Hub is open and educators are hosting some programs. Last week, Northwood’s robotics teacher Jeff Martin led a free robotics camp for girls there, funded by a grant through the Adirondack Foundation. Prime said part of her job right now includes looking at ways the school can launch some small-scale tests of different programming and events, to see what generates the most impact and interest. In the fall, she’ll be teaching a course on design thinking.

“I’m just excited to work with kids again on a personal level,” she said.

At Northwood School, Prime said she feels like there are fewer barriers to innovation than she experienced while working at a public school.

“It just feels like the possibilities are endless,” she said.

Putting down roots

Prime and her family haven’t been able to get their own home yet. Like many others looking to settle down in the Tri-Lakes region, she said that every time she found a home she liked, by the time her husband got a chance to look at the listing, the home was already gone.

The number of homes on the market in the Adirondacks has continued to decline even as the demand for homes soars, a trend that’s reflected in many rural areas across the country. This discrepancy between the number of homes available and the number of people looking to purchase a home has driven up home prices, brought more bidders to listings and priced out some families that aren’t able to bid competitively.

The family is under contract on a property in Keene Valley, where Prime hopes to establish a kind of communal living space with other families and friends.