Trustee Candidates Speak

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busA last-minute challenger has entered the race for trustee of the Great Neck Public Schools Board of Education. Incumbents Lawrence Gross and Susan Healy previously indicated they are running for re-election. With two open seats, that meant they were unopposed.

Now, newcomer Chien (Chris) Huang has entered the fray.

Elections are Tuesday, May 20, at the E.M. Baker School and at South High School.

The Great Neck Record asked all three candidates to submit a short biography and answer some questions. Here are their responses:

Lawrence Gross

I first became involved in the Great Neck schools in 1979 when I helped start STOP, a new organization which hundreds of concerned residents joined to revitalize school operations and to oppose the district’s plans to close two elementary schools, one middle school and one high school, and to significantly increase class size.

I became the leader of STOP and was elected to the school board for the first time in 1981. In my second year, I became president of the board and began to initiate changes in how the board worked with the public, its staff and the community at large. The board and newly selected superintendent changed the way it made educational decisions and its interaction with the public. At that time, my daughter was a second grader and her daughter is now a fourth grader in Great Neck.

A study was undertaken to determine how the previous administration’s plan to eliminate a middle school and a high school would affect our students, lengthy public discussions were held and the decision was made not to close either school. This resulted in smaller secondary schools with a more welcoming environment, greater individual attention for each student and far more opportunity to participate in extra-curricular activities.

Over the years, many changes were made to make our district more efficient and more focused on the needs of individual students. District administrative organization was improved and nonessential positions eliminated. An ongoing capital improvement program was added to our regular budget. District purchasing was made more efficient and new coordination with other school districts put in place to improve pricing.

One of the primary jobs of a school board is to recruit people at all levels and provide the means for them to best deliver education. This board has studied and implemented many measures to accomplish just this. We are able to attract experienced teachers and others to Great Neck as a result. This is a primary reason why so many of our current residents moved here. The three superintendent searches I have worked on demonstrated our national reputation for educational excellence.

Today, education throughout New York State is under attack. Great Neck is not immune to the financial and curriculum pressures faced. Our board has taken steps to reduce New York State’s onerous tasks of testing to minimize any detrimental impact on our students and teachers. We have introduced new teacher evaluation methods which meet state requirements, but which do not look to testing as anything other than an evaluative tool.

The budget is closely studied and means devised to focus on ways to enhance our educational program.

We have found ways to finance three major capital improvement programs, totaling more than $38,300,000, without our taxpayers having to pay additional amounts for the work (using fund balances reserved for this purpose and a special self-funding energy conservation project). Also, we have achieved significant new revenues, from such areas as tuition received from other school districts and rental fees charged for the use of school facilities. Out of 4,720 New York State government bodies, Great Neck is one of only 23 top-rated AAA by Moody’s Investors Service.

These accomplishments require knowledge and hard work by the entire board and staff. It is definitely a time to make certain that the district has experienced leaders, knowledgeable in all of the many areas needed to maintain and enhance education in Great Neck.

I believe that I have demonstrated the ability to do this work and hope that I will have the chance to continue my contributions to our educational future. You can see how important it is to me. Let’s continue to work together to keep our schools great for all of our students.

Susan Healy

I am a 30-year resident of Great Neck. When I first moved here, I knew little about the community. I knew that it was a lighthouse school district. I would soon find out that everything I had heard was true, and this community would become the place where I wanted to raise my children.

Thirty years have quickly passed and my five children who have gone through our schools. The youngest son is still a student here. For me, becoming involved in our schools was an easy and natural decision. I wanted to partner with our schools in the education process. I became involved with my school PTA’s, serving in many positions over the years including: treasurer, UPTC delegate, vice president, president and Shared Decision Making chair. Each position offered new challenges, brought new relationships and encouraged positive interactions that brought about positive changes. I have served on numerous selection committees that have recruited talented professionals who have delivered a high quality of services to our children.

I was first appointed to the board seven years ago. There was much to learn and I embraced the challenge. The mentorship I received from my fellow board members was of great value. It was quite a learning experience, but one I was prepared for by my work in our buildings and my frequent attendance at board meetings. This board was never afraid to make changes as necessary when it would benefit our children and has always maintained a “children first” and “they only experience each year once” perspective for its decision.

Fiscal responsibility is the true mark of any good budget. Our administrative team was reorganized.

Some positions that were no longer required were eliminated. In addition to our regular budget, a multi-year capital improvement plan was added. Our school purchasing has been made more efficient by coordinating it with other school districts. Careful management of our resources reduced costs.

The ability to attract outstanding educators at every level is accomplished by establishing an environment for support and guidance. People want to work here. On our last superintendent search, the reputation of our district was mentioned by each candidate. By maintaining our national reputation for excellence, we will continue to be able to recruit such talented individuals to work with our children.

This is not an easy time for public education. New York State mandates continue without financial support. We work to lessen the burdens placed on our children and our faculty as a result of the state’s testing schedules. Our faculty continues to incorporate necessary skills into its courses and to work on ways to better deliver and enhance curriculum. We are proud of our music, arts and sports programs which thrive while in other districts they are being eliminated. Our secondary schools offer a wide array of clubs and activities to meet the interest of our diverse student population. We have been able to increase our revenue by receiving tuition from other districts for specialized programs that we offer and by charging rental fees for the use of our facilities.

Performing optimally as a board member requires time, commitment, hard work and knowledge that come from many years of service. This is what makes Great Neck great. I never take for granted the trust and support that you, my community, has given to me over the last several years as a board member, and the many years before that in my other school roles. I have a passion for what I do here and will continue to work hard for the future of our schools. Please help me to make sure all of our children have the opportunity to experience the benefits of a Great Neck education.

Chien (Chris) Huang

Chris Huang was born in Taipei, Taiwan. He went to Brazil after elementary school. He spent seven years in São Paulo and left to study at MIT, where he graduated with two Bachelor of Science degrees. Subsequently he got his Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering from Princeton. True to his interest, Chris went to work for Grumman Aerospace Corporation (now Northrop Grumman) in Bethpage, Long Island, where he rose to be a principal scientist. Currently, Chris is a product manager working for Openlink Financial, an energy and financial software company based in Uniondale.

Chris has been a resident of Great Neck for 25 years. He and his wife, JoAnn, have two children, Wesley and Nicole, both of them products of the Great Neck School System. Chris was a founding member of the Great Neck Chinese Association, where he served as a board member and recreation chair for several years. For the last eight years, he has supported and coordinated the Great Neck South Relay for Life team for the American Cancer Society. He was an interviewer for applicants to MIT and a former education director of an enrichment center in Manhasset.

Chris is running for academic excellence because he says that recent outside rankings showing that “Great Neck is beginning to lag behind other schools, something that we must proactively address.”

And he is running for fiscal responsibility and vision, saying that school taxes (not school budget) have risen too much over the last few years and the argument of quality education, regardless of cost, is overused and “no longer can be accepted at face value when general inflation is less than two percent and bank deposit rates are near zero percent.” He adds that “while tax increases are necessary at times, we must spend it wisely with a sensible long-term budget plan that puts money into the buckets that enhance education and student experience.”

Third, he calls for the use of technology, saying that new devices and media are continuously being introduced for educational purposes. However, buying iPads or Smart screens does not necessarily lead to increased learning. “We must train teachers and carefully monitor student response to the new technologies to achieve maximum effectiveness.”

Chris also calls for transparency, stating: “While the current Great Neck Board of Education may work hard to provide guidance to the Great Neck Schools, not nearly enough has been communicated to the public.”

Most of all, Chris says that he is running because he “believes that changes are necessary to make the Great Neck School District the best and the most efficient school in Long Island.”

If elected, Chris pledges to return Great Neck to its academic preeminence of being the number one high school in Long Island. He pledges to “work with the school administration to establish specific metrics to improve Great Neck school ranking over the next few years.”

He also vows “to re-examine the entire budget for better and more efficient ways to use taxpayers’ money.” He says that with his “extensive background in high-technology” he will assist in “recommending the way forward in terms of use of technology, not for the sake of new equipment, but how to enhance the learning.”

Chris also says he will “institute much better communication with the residents and hold accountable both the Great Neck administrators and BOE.” Above of all, Chris believes that “status quo is not working” and he promises to bring necessary and sensible changes to energize the school district.

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