Huntington Board of Education members bid an emotional farewell to longtime trustee Elizabeth Black at the final meeting of the year last week at school.
Culminating nearly a decade of service during some of the district's most trying times, colleagues reflected on Black's commitment, strength and perspective during nine years of service — a tenure highlighted by controversial BOE decisions and mandated budget restrictions.
"You've been so firm about the issues you believe in and stood your ground when it mattered and always had a clear sense of what you believed was right and wrong and I've always admired that in you," said school board president Emily Rogan, who staunchly opposed Black on the closing of Jack Abrams Intermediate School in 2010. "You are both a worthy adversary and a strong alley on the issues that we have faced over the years together."
Siding with former school board president Bill Dwyer, trustees John Paci III and Richard McGrath, Black voted to close Abrams after a 16-year-old girl was shot near the school's grounds.
Rogan fought hard to keep the school open, but in a historic 4-3 vote, the school was shut down. "I don't think fear should push us to make this decision," Rogan said two years ago.
In 2012, budget concerns have and board members mostly silent on any potential move to consider reopening it; despite to get it open.
After facing difficult decisions during her final term, Black said at the June 4 meeting it has been a pleasure to serve.
Citing disparities in the level of cuts affecting different schools, Black was the only school board member which halved in Huntington due to rising costs and state aid cuts.
"Yes there have been many rocky roads and many smooth roads but it's been wonderful," said Black, a Republican, who to Democrat William Spencer for a Suffolk County Legislature seat.
Excellence, safety and always raising the bar for every child is important to the school district, said Black, a retired teacher, who expects district superintendent Jim Polansky to continue to "raise the bar" for students.
"I know he's going to bring us to other levels," Black said.
Black and school board counterpart Kimberly Brown did not seek reelection in 2012. incumbent Emily Rogan, Xavier Palacios and Tom DiGiacomo to the Huntington school board last month.
Polansky said it has been a pleasure to work with all board members this year and it is "bittersweet" having to say good-bye to Black and Brown.
Rogan admitted she learned from Black as a school board "newbie."
"I learned from watching and listening to you and following your lead when I wasn't sure what to do," said Rogan. "I appreciate that."
Black offered a perspective as a 33-year teacher that many board members didn't have and helped to drive many important discussions, including the push for extra science sections at Finley Middle School, according to Rogan
"We all owe you thanks for your commitment and I wish you well on the next phase of your journey," said Rogan.
McGrath presented Black with a plaque on behalf of the BOE in appreciation for her work.
"Nine years is a really long time and since you and I served together we know that a couple of those years are like dog years so it's like we served 25 years," said McGrath. "This is one of the few public bodies were you serve totally for free."
Rogan presented flowers and Black's children gave their mom a parting gift during the emotional tribute filled with both tears and smiles.