Sassouni, Tabari race headlines Great Neck School District’s elections

Sassouni, Tabari race headlines Great Neck School District’s elections
Both Great Neck Board of Education candidate elections are contested. (Photo courtesy of the Great Neck School District)

Great Neck Board of Education President Rebecca Sassouni is running for re-election to the board against challenger Niloufar Tabari.

The seat currently held by Trustee Jeff Shi is being sought by Joanne Chan and Aili Zhang. Shi withdrew his petitions to run again several weeks ago and said he wanted to spend more time with his family.

Sassouni, who was first elected to the board in 2017, announced she will be running for re-election as a trustee in March. The Board of Education elects a trustee to the post of president each year. Being re-elected to the board, she said, would give her an opportunity to continue to serve the school district that her own children have attended.

“I have abiding love and gratitude to this community and also to this school district,” Sassouni told Blank Slate Media in March. “And I’m very appreciative that my family enjoys the pluralism here.”

Sassouni said she was pleased with some of the practices adopted by the board since she took over as president in 2021. These include the live-streaming of board meetings to make them more easily accessible. She lauded the board’s decision-making and collaborative work during the interview.

“I think that our decision-making has become much more deliberative and more process-oriented, which I’m very proud of,” Sassouni said. “We are working together very collaboratively and very collegially in executive session and in public.”

When asked if she believes there is a sense of divisiveness, Sassouni said she tries to remain “as judicious as possible” and promote the education of students rather than combatting certain notions.

“I try to remain fair, give people a chance to be heard and feel respected,” Sassouni said. “It’s actually very exciting to behold and really very beautiful when you look at it and see all the diversity we have here.”

Tabari is a speech-language pathologist who has lived in Great Neck for the past two decades. An executive board member of the Saddle Rock PTA, Tabari has four children enrolled in the public school system.

Tabari, in a letter to Blank Slate Media, said she felt “compelled to run” for the school board so that she could give back to the community and bring a perspective to the board that would benefit all district stakeholders.

“I am a parent, an educator, and a resident of this community that I admire, respect and love,” Tabari said. “I intend on bringing this perspective to the Board of Education in order to ensure that our schools succeed to the benefit of our children, students, staff and educators.”

In 2021, Tabari expressed concerns with a book entitled “If You Come Softly” about an interracial teenage couple. A passage in the book depicts an older white couple staring at the interracial couple who ask the younger white girl if she was in any danger.

In her letter to Blank Slate Media, Tabari said she is against book banning “in any form” and addressed the divisiveness she feels is prevalent in the community.

“I personally believe that the diversity of this community needs to be celebrated and not used to divide and hurt,” Tabari said in the letter. “No matter how diverse this community is, we share one singular goal: best in class education for our children.”

Chan has served on a variety of school district organizations for roughly 15 years. Those include serving as co-president of the United Parent-Teacher Council, chairperson of the council’s Total Community Involvement Committee and a member of executive committees in South High, South Middle and Saddle Rock.

Chan addressed the many issues the board faces, including the hiring of a new superintendent and negotiating contracts with Great Neck’s teachers, in a letter to Blank Slate Media.

She touted her two decades of office management and Master’s from NYU, saying her educational and professional skills would serve the district well if elected.

“The board must, as always, continue to be responsible for the budget that governs all of our schools,” Chan said. “All of this requires a deep understanding of how our schools operate and should not be left to someone who has never held a leadership position within our schools.”

Promoting Great Neck’s diversity rather than letting the “culture wars” divide the community, Chan said, is paramount for not just the school board but for the entire school district community. Chan noted how far people travel to attend Great Neck’s schools and the need to continue preserving that “world-class education.”

“We must not allow culture wars to distract us from the important work of providing our children with the exceptional education that Great Neck is known for,” Chan said. “A community that silences its teachers does not prepare its students for the real world, which is large, diverse, and complex.”

Zhang, like Chan, has experience serving in school community groups such as the United Parent-Teacher Council, the E.M. Baker School PTO and the Shared Decision Making Committee. A mother of two children in the school district, Zhang is a state-certified public accountant with more than 15 years of tax auditing and compliance.

If elected, Zhang would push for improving school safety, further try to engage the community, advocate for the needs of teachers and students and continue to promote educational achievements for everyone attending Great Neck schools, according to campaign literature posted online.

Great Neck will also be voting on the school district’s $272.1 million budget for the 2023-24 school year. The budget is a $10.7 million increase from the current year’s $261.4 million budget adopted last year.

The 2023-24 tax levy is $229.5 million, an increase of $6.8 million or 3.07% from the current year’s.

The election will take place on May 16 from 7 a.m.- 10 p.m. Residents can find which of the four polling place locations (E.M. Baker School, Lakeville School, Saddle Rock School and South High School) where they will vote at

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