Donald Ashkenase to become longest serving Great Neck school board trustee

Barbara Berkowitz and Donald Ashkenase were both re-elected to serve on the Great Neck school board. (Photo by Janelle Clausen)
Barbara Berkowitz and Donald Ashkenase were both re-elected to serve on the Great Neck school board. (Photo by Janelle Clausen)

Donald Ashkenase will officially become the longest serving school board trustee in the Great Neck Union Free School District’s history next week, surpassing a record set by Lawrence Gross last year.

Ashkenase, currently vice president of the Board of Education, was first elected to the school board in 1982. With this year’s election and swearing in, Ashkenase has entered his 13th three-year term.

Ashkenase said he has always noted how “fortunate” it is to live in America.

But he also adds how fortunate people are to live in Great Neck now, he said, as it has become more diverse since he and his family first moved there in 1979.

“Great Neck represents the best of America by virtue of the diversity that exists in this community and we couldn’t be more fortunate,” Ashkenase said.

“And so… when you talk about what it means to stay on the board, we have to preserve the quality of the public schools of Great Neck and we have to ensure that we can support the low-class size and values that have been embedded in the public education here since the 1980s going forward so that the kids here get the best education they possibly could get,” Ashkenase said.

Since 1894 there have been 86 trustees, with two serving non-consecutive terms. Including the current Board of Education, the average time served has been just over seven years.

Of those 86 trustees, only 20 have served 10 years or more and only four have served 20 or more years: John A. Laressy from 1916 to 1940, Barbara Berkowitz from 1992 to present, Lawrence Gross from 1981 to 2017, and Donald L. Ashkenase from 1982 to present.

“Not many people commit to 36 years of serving on a board,” Barbara Berkowitz, president of the school board, said on Thursday. “I think anybody you would say that to is quite taken aback because most boards have a rapid turnover.”

During Ashkenase’s tenure, he has been involved in the selection of three superintendents of the Great Neck Public Schools: Ronald Friedman, Thomas Dolan, and Teresa Prendergast, who has been serving since 2015.

William H. Shine, for whom William H. Shine South High School is named, was appointed the same year Ashkenase joined the board.

Ashkenase currently chairs the Board of Education’s Financial Advisory Committee and is the chief operating officer and vice president of the Nassau University Medical Center.

Ashkenase has also served in a number of other financial positions, including as a chief financial officer at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, the executive vice president of Montefiore Medical Center, and chairman of Healthfirst, which was founded in 1993 to provide low-cost health insurance to people in the New York City area.

“I don’t think there is anybody who would dispute your command of numbers,” Berkowitz said of Ashkenase at Thursday night’s board meeting. “Anytime we talk about anything, Don is ready with what this percentage is and what this group of numbers means and so on.”

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