Local officials and members of the Great Neck School District community honored the life of former Superintendent William A. Shine at South High School, the school that bears his name, last week.
Shine, who was hailed as a “visionary” leader by current-day district officials, died in January at 93. He served as superintendent from 1982 until he retired from the post in 2004, giving him the second-longest tenure as a superintendent in the district’s history, trailing only John L. Miller’s 28 years.
Those who spoke about Shine’s legacy last week included Shine’s wife, Susan, state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, former Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth, current Superintendent Teresa Prendergast, Temple Emanuel Senior Rabbi Robert S. Widom and others. As each speaker reflected on their memories in multiple capacities with the longtime superintendent, a recurring theme in each speech was the importance the district played throughout Shine’s life.
Prendergast said she first met Shine at a community involvement forum that was centered around public education. She cited Shine’s admiration for the district and commitment to providing each student with a quality education.
“Bill immediately earned my respect as an instructional and compassionate leader who understood that every student deserves a learning environment that met their unique needs,” Prendergast said. “Soon after I began my tenure as superintendent, I invited Bill to meet with me in the superintendent’s office. The school district was such an enormous part of his life and he shared with me many stories about his time in Great Neck and provided sound counsel.”
Widom, whose relationship with the Shine family has spanned more than two decades, said he could not walk the halls of a school without students, faculty and staff stopping to say hello, with the superintendent making sure each one felt just as special.
“And he would know every one of their names,” Widom said. “It was so moving and touching to see the relationship of a superintendent with each kid that walked through the corridors. Not only did they come to respect him, in fact, many of them came to love him.”
One of those students was Benjamin Rosloff, a film editor and scripted filmmaker, who spoke on his unique relationship with Shine. Rosloff said he was one of the first students with autism to be educated in the district and that he was one of Shine’s favorite students.
“He understood that not everything about a person is discovered in high school,” Rosloff said. “Dr. Shine never doubted people. He was always thinking about what people could do and how he could help. He always knew it was worth believing that someone could succeed.”
DiNapoli said it was a “great privilege” to work with Shine when he was a member of the state Assembly and an “even greater” one to have known him as a friend for even longer. DiNapoli said he often sought counsel from Shine on issues pertaining to education and that his answers to legislative proposals involving school funding were always the “most thoughtful.”
“Any conversation with Bill Shine was a learning experience,” DiNapoli said. “On more than one occasion, I would bring whoever was chair of the Assembly’s Education Committee to our community for a tour. No disrespect to any of the other superintendents we met, but Bill was always the person who left the greatest impression at these meetings.”
Bosworth, who previously served on the Great Neck Board of Education, said Shine was not the type of superintendent to sit back and rely on other district officials to do the grunt work and inform him of district happenings. Often, she said, Shine would be found walking the halls of the schools, attending sporting events and, on occasion, serving as principal.
“He believed strongly in being available and approachable, something that parents took full advantage of, and we were certainly outspoken about what we thought needed to be done,” Bosworth said. “Bill worked with us all, but always reminded us to be cognizant of what he referred to as the ‘empty chair’.”
Bosworth said Shine never wanted any changes that would benefit one group of students at the expense of another. The ‘empty chair,’ she said, was Shine’s way of representing the students whose parents may not be in a position to advocate for them and ensured they still had access to the same opportunities as everyone else in the district.
Following his tenure in Great Neck, Shine spent six years working in the Manhasset school district, including a few months as interim superintendent.
Aside from being a dedicated public educator, Shine served in the Marine Corps, a fighting force Susan said he held in very high regard. Aside from Susan, Shine is survived by his children Barbara and Jack, four grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
The ceremony featured a flag folding from the Marine Corps Funeral Honors, music performances from North and South High School students and a video tribute in Shine’s honor. Susan, Shine’s wife for nearly 40 years, thanked everyone for attending and coordinating the event and spoke on the importance of the Great Neck community.
“Great Neck is very special to me as it certainly was to him,” Susan said.
A full video recording of the ceremony is available on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9HHgMou06TA.