Readers Write: Rebecca Sassouni responds to selection as G.N. ed board prez

The Island Now

There are a few things I wish to say and many people I wish to thank:

Thank you to my parents who raised their daughters to value our minds and educations as our most precious assets.

Thank you to my spouse and our now-young-adult children for supporting my idealism,
aspirations, and abiding my crazy scheduling in the spirit of shared sacrifice which is a hallmark of our family’s history and future.

Thank you to my colleagues on this Board of Education who each put in countless hours of their intellects, hearts and souls into this effort.

Thank you to Barbara Berkowitz who is a very tough act to follow having herself broken the mold, and in appreciation of the memory of Donald Ashkenase, of whose expansive open-hearted views on the meaning of a Great Neck public education continue to set the tone for all of us.

Thank you Dr. Prendergast, Central Office, building administrators, teachers, and staff for
completing a second-most unusual school year without closing a single building even for a day, and with increasing morale as time advanced. The teamwork, collegiality and creativity you all modeled is commendable and does not go unnoticed.

Now, please bear with me for a few more thoughts.
The first is to please bear with me as I will likely have some flubs along the way. I will try my best.

The second is about my whys and hows, before I recuse myself, again, from speaking about myself or my own life path:
Why me and why now? Some of you may or may not know that our four children all attended the Great Neck Public Schools and actually each went on to attend public colleges.

Prior to my election to this Board in 2017, I first got involved in the schools during a continuous 17-year span as a parent involved as a class parent, PTO volunteer, Shared Decision Making member, Shared Decision Making chairperson, UPTC Delegate, UPTC chairperson, UPTC officer, selection committee, nominating committee member, and advisory committee member.

Tonight marks the beginning of my fifth year of service on this Board.
Prior to these, I was and remain, a bilingual first-generation American, myself a product of
public schools in Cresskill New Jersey, Douglaston, Queens, Manhattan, and Roslyn, as well as Barnard College and Hofstra Law.

My family moved several times when I was a child. I have come to believe that my starting afresh, as well as my living here in Great Neck continuously these last 27 years give me a deep appreciation for the multifaceted pluralism and sophistication of this truly special community and the jewel in its crown, the Great Neck Public Schools.

Perhaps it takes living elsewhere to know how special it is to live and be educated

As a lifelong learner and student I continue to have great hope for public education and
communication, even as I note that schools, including here, are expected to do more and more with regard to bridging the gaps of food and shelter insecurity in the face of rising poverty, language and cultural barriers which are part and parcel of the immigrant experience which defines this great nation.

The tasks are both daunting and noble. Over the next year you will hear me invoke the words of Justice Stephen Breyer who just last week published a seminal majority opinion in a student First Amendment case, “America’s public schools are nurseries of democracy.”

Long a lighthouse district which is the envy of the state, here in Great Neck on this peninsula, we enjoy one of the finest public school districts which in keeping with Justice Breyer’s metaphor includes 2 universal pre-Ks, 3 high schools including an alternative one, 2 middle schools, adult learning, and laudable professional development opportunities for staff.

Amidst this abundance is it any wonder that we have families moving here for the educational opportunities, and that our school population continues to rise despite downward trends elsewhere?

In a community that has always valued education as a raison d’etre, is it any
wonder that our sophisticated public has various opinions reflecting values and expectations?

This place we all serve and love is indeed the incubator and nursery of democracy; we are a microcosm of Breyer’s American macrocosm.

I just took an oath which I take very seriously. One year from now, I hope to look back and say that we all made good on promises we make tonight to safeguard the students and staff and educations they deserve. I commit now to support the District without fear or favor for the benefit of our growing and diverse community of learners and teachers- their mental and physical well being as our guiding star.

As president, I intend to lead with an open mind and a generative growth mindset in order to work with my colleagues. We are each elected in separate and staggered elections by design in order to preserve the diversity of this community and to be responsive to our constituents.

We will work to open our minds and share ideas and best practices, among the Board, the
Administration, and in the policies we enact. Where we may differ, we will to try to reach
a consensus. To this end, we welcome our new general counsel from the firm of Ingerman Smith to Great Neck.

We will continue to devote part of our Board meetings to allow public comment. We are also hoping to return to in-person meetings that will continue to utilize technology to permit remote community viewing as well.

Boards of Education are deliberative bodies. The GNPS Board has long been and will continue to be mindful of the community we serve as fiduciaries, the children entrusted to our care, and the staff whose chosen profession was and will always be noble even before they were thrust into the role of “first responders” due to COVID 19.

We welcome public participation in this communal endeavor, and will gladly help route your
concerns appropriately. Please know we are here to hear, and we do, even when you may not get the quick answer or retort you desire.

It is my sincere hope that we can model democracy and the marketplace of ideas at our
meetings and in our community. To that end, although I am honored to hold this gavel…I hope never to use it.

Rebecca Sassouni

President of Great Neck Board of Educationj

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