Days after the saying their final farewells to their beloved schools chief, -- who died last Monday from an apparent heart attack -- the Lynbrook Board of Education appointed Dr. Melissa Burak to the helm.
“There are no words to adequately describe the tremendous loss and deep sadness we have all felt over the sudden loss of our beloved Superintendent of Schools Dr. Santo Barbarino,” Board President Catherine Papandrew said at the start of Wednesday's special business meeting, where the board observed a moment of silence for Dr. B and then later unanimously approved Dr. Burak's appointment.
"It saddens me terribly that Dr. B has passed on, but Dr. Burak, I could not think of a better person to fill his shoes," Jennifer Hinderstein, a Lynbrook resident and mother of two, stated during the public comment portion of the packed meeting.
After listening to Hinderstein's comments and remarks from other community members, the school board unanimously approved two resolutions -- one granting Dr. Burak, who had been serving as the district's assistant superintendent of business, a three-year contract extension, and another appointing her to the position of interm superintendent, effective immediately.
Burak's renewed contract entitles her to a 2.5 percent salary increase for the 2012-2013 school year, a 1.75 percent increase for 2013-2014 and 2.5 percent for 2014-2015. Her contributions to her heath insurance will increase by 1 percent next school year and by another 1 percent the following year. She is also receiving additional compensation for her Interim Superintendent
According to the district, Dr. Barbarino had expressed to the board a few months before his passing that it was his intention to retire at the end of June 2013. At that time, the board contacted Dr. Charles Fowler, president of School Leadership, LLC, a well-known and highly respected executive search firm, and engaged in preliminary discussions regarding a search for a new superintendent. Papandrew explained that Dr. Barbarino’s sudden passing has necessitated that the board continue to move ahead with this search much sooner than they had anticipated.
“Please know that it is our intention to have the community involved in this search process,” said Ms. Papandrew. “We will keep you informed about the ways in which you can express your opinions and participate in this search process."
Lynbrook Chamber of Commerce President Bill Gaylor and his VP Jeff Greenfield also spoke up during Wednesday's meeting, expressing their support of the board's decision to select Burak to lead the school district in light of Barbarino's sudden passing.
"We know that the fine tradition working hand-in-hand with the school district will continue," Gaylor said.
Greenfield, who had attended past budget meetings conducted by Burak, added that he had been "very impressed by her."
The audience of residents, parents and business leaders who gathered at Lynbrook High School for the brief meeting gave Burak a standing ovation when her appointment was made official. However, the congratulatory remarks were intertwined with reflections on Barbarino's loss, as images of Friday's funeral procession were still fresh in everyone's minds.
“Dr. Barbarino was a visionary educational leader whose number one priority was always what was best for our students," Papandrew said, thanking the school district's administrators and staff for working together to ensure that the opening day of school went smoothly, "just the way Dr. Barbarino would have wanted.”
"The display of the students of Lynbrook for Dr. Barbarino the other day at his funeral was nothing short of magnificent," recalled Pat Longi, referring to the hundreds of people, including current students and alumni, who lined Atlantic Avenue to St. Raymond's Church in East Rockaway Friday morning to pay their final respects. "They honored him in a way that would have brought him tremendous joy."
Echoing what many of Barbarino's colleagues, friends, staff, students and neighbors have said since the news of his death rippled through the community and beyond, Longi stated, "I loved the man. He was an extraordinary human being who gave his all to this district. Anyone who came across him is better for it, we are richer for it ... He was truly a gift."
To Dr. Burak, she said, "You can walk proudly in his footsteps."
Papandrew also announced that over the next several weeks the board will be considering all recommendations for short- and long-term plans to honor Dr. Barbarino. The public is invited to share their suggestions by contacting District Clerk Elizabeth Mueller by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.