The Great Neck Board of Education has undergone drastic changes in the last few months, electing two new members on May 16 and Donna Peirez in a special December election.
Jeff Shi, who comes from an engineering background, will replace Lawrence Gross, a 12-term trustee and vice president of the board. Rebecca Sassouni, an attorney and active parent, will fill the seat of three-term trustee Susan Healy.
In the last few decades, Gross said, it had been hard to get people to run for the school board because of the time commitment. Partly as a result, the board consisted of veteran trustees.
“In the past, generally, trustees served a much shorter period of time,” Gross, the longest serving member of the board, said.
But having new blood on the board is not necessarily a bad thing, Gross said, because there is a strong foundation to work on.
“New people, when they come in, can add to it. It’s a good thing, really,” he said.
The three new trustees who have been elected in the last seven months come from varying backgrounds.
Peirez, who won a special election to fill Monique Bloom’s seat in December, is not necessarily a new face. She taught for decades in the public schools and helped lead a crusade to prevent high schools from shutting down in the late 1970s.
Sassouni, an attorney, is also a veteran of the school district. Sassouni is a parent member of the Citizens’ Advisory Committee, which formed last year, an officer of the United Parent Teacher Council and was the UPTC Legislative Committee chairwoman for seven years. She has also served on a selection committee, two nominating committees and served as a PTO board member.
Outside of the schools, Sassouni has also been an officer of the Sephardic Heritage Alliance and an officer and board member of Temple Israel of Great Neck.
Shi is a technology consultant who first moved to Great Neck in 2013 for its public schools. He is also the first Asian-American to join the Board of Education.
“I look forward to working with both of them. We’ve always been a very cohesive board, we’ve accomplished a lot, and we don’t anticipate that changing,” said Barbara Berkowitz, president of the Board of Education. “They both bring different life experiences with them, as have all of us.”
Among the responsibilities of a trustee are to create, adopt and maintain policies. They also set the culture of the district, create partnerships with the community, oversee budget development, and provide accountability when it comes to student achievement results. They also ratify collective bargaining agreements and hire and evaluate the superintendent.
Trustees are also expected to attend as many meetings and events as possible. According to an information packet each candidate received, there are 18 evening public meetings through the year, between six and eight executive sessions, between six and eight working-session dinners and between six and eight retirement and graduation activities.
The candidates also received a list of some of the events board members typically attended. Among them were chamber of commerce meetings, holiday celebrations, community meetings, sporting events and other items.
Trustees must attend at least six district-sponsored events. They are also required by state law to complete a six-hour training class on fiscal oversight and governance skills, the packet said.
Steve Markowitz, president of the Great Neck Democratic Club and Holocaust Tolerance and Memorial Center, said that the new make-up of this board will help it greatly in dealing with various issues as the community changes.
“For a lot of the newer residents, they come with different backgrounds, different concerns, which the rest of us might not appreciate,” Markowitz said.
On July 5, when the new trustees are sworn in, the board will consist of 12-term trustee Don Ashkenase, Peirez, Berkowitz, Shi and Sassouni.