Great Neck Board of Education President Barbara Berkowitz and challenger Michael Glickman expressed differing views on the state of the board and what type of leader the district needs ahead of Tuesday’s election.
Berkowitz has served on the board for nearly 30 years since first being appointed in 1992.
Before becoming a board member, Berkowitz served the school district community in other ways, including being a member and executive board officer for the E.M. Baker School Parent Teacher Association. She was also a member and budget chairperson for the United Parent-Teacher Council and a member of Shared Decision-Making Committees at both Baker School and North Middle School.
Glickman has spent the past 16 years living in Great Neck with his wife, Sumi, a former finance executive, and three children. Two of his children attend North Middle School and one attends Saddle Rock Elementary School.
He is the founder and CEO of jMUSE, a venture in arts and culture philanthropy that joins institutions, experts and philanthropists to create innovative content throughout the United States and Europe. Glickman has also served as president and CEO of the state’s Holocaust museum and has served as president of the board of directors for the Gold Coast Arts Center and its film festival.
The two are running for a trustee seat, not the board presidency, which is decided by members later in an organizational meeting.
Glickman cited the lack of transparency and community involvement he said he has witnessed on the board as a reason for running for trustee. The in-person restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Glickman said, resulted in a board that did not know how to effectively interact with community stakeholders.
“What I experienced with my own kids, and in conversations with many others in the community, is that when the pandemic started, we really lost hold of how to communicate, and how to ensure that there were proper channels for parents to get information, to be able to support our kids,” Glickman said in an interview with Blank Slate Media.
Berkowitz, in a subsequent interview with Blank Slate Media, touted the transparency and community involvement the board has displayed in recent years while acknowledging some of the difficulties caused by the pandemic.
Berkowitz said there are still things she would like to see the board accomplish. Some of those goals include continuing private meetings with various community groups throughout the peninsula and having community forums with residential, activist and religious leaders to address topics facing the Great Neck community.
“We can’t be seen as merely a school district,” Berkowitz said. “We are part of a larger community, especially since there have been some problems in the community with integrating all the different groups. I thought this would be a great way to do it.”
Glickman touted the importance of fresh ideas and change in the community as part of his platform.
“I think I bring a level of fresh eyes and a clear-eyed perspective about what else we’ve got to be doing and to make sure that we’re putting the resources behind getting these kids consistently the education and the resources that they need,” Glickman said.
Berkowitz noted that a new face, Grant Toch, will presumably be elected to the board in his uncontested race, but warned the public about having too much change too quickly.
“I think there’s a problem with too much change at one time,” Berkowitz said. “And there’s no historical perspective if I were not on the board anymore. My age doesn’t stop me, or stymie me from the work that I do.”
Both Glickman and Berkowitz said they were displeased with divisiveness throughout the community and beyond, but both touched on specific points of divisiveness that have been a result of the school board election.
“At the end of the day, we’ve got to get back to a place where we can embrace discourse, where we can sit at a table and have a conversation,” Glickman said. “Maybe we don’t have to agree with everyone, but we at least have to hear what the other side is saying.”
“I am devastated about what is happening here in this community,” Berkowitz said. “I think that some of these elections and the tone they have taken has only increased the divisiveness.”
Glickman said his children have been on the receiving end of some of the maliciousness stirred up by the election, claiming they have received calls from members of the public.
“The fact that anybody in this community thinks it’s OK to reach out to my children, shame on you. It is not,” Glickman said.
Berkowitz also touched on some “hurt feelings” on her end as a result of previous letters submitted by Glickman regarding her and the late Trustee Don Ashkenase. When asked if the election was framed differently and Berkowitz would be on the board at the same time as Glickman and if she could work with him, Berkowitz said there would probably need to be some discussions first.
“There’s no question that I would work with him,” Berkowitz said. “I think I’d have to have a conversation with him initially because I think that there are hurt feelings. I know there is in my part.”
When asked why people should vote for them, Glickman spoke on the importance of forward thinking, while Berkowitz touted her tenure as a trustee.
“I represent fresh perspectives and I represent the future,” Glickman said. “This is about getting our kids and our districts future ready and future focused. This is about how we make smarter, more thoughtful, more inspirational investments in the community.”
“I think people know some of the things that have happened to growth in this district. I don’t just mean in terms of the numbers and the size, but all of the things that we have now encumbered and all of the things that we have accomplished in this district,” Berkowitz said. “I don’t apologize for the fact that I have all of this school district experience or leadership experience.”
In addition to the two trustee positions, residents will vote on Tuesday on the proposed $252 million budget for the 2021-22 school year.