Elizabeth Black recently received the Republican and Conservative nomination for Suffolk County’s 18th Legislative seat. Ms. Black will challenge Dr. William Spencer for the open seat relinquished by Legislator Jon Cooper due to term-limits. Suffolk County Legislators are limited to 12 years of consecutive service.
So, who is Elizabeth Black?
To answer that question VILLAGE TATTLER has decided to reprint an article written about Ms. Black that was originally published on May 16, 2010.
Some Women Are Born Leaders: Huntington Educator Elizabeth Black
“Believe it or not, I always wanted to be a teacher when I grew up,” says Elizabeth Black, who is serving her third three-year term on the Huntington School District Board of Education (BOE). Black credits two English teachers in high school as her mentors. But her love of teaching began in second grade, she recalls.
“When I was in second grade, I requested a big blackboard for my bedroom,” says Black. “My parents honored my request and hung a big board on my wall. When I came home each day, I would line up my stuffed animals in rows and play school. Later on when I reached High School, I joined the FTA, Future Teachers of America. As part of my membership, I would visit elementary schools once a week and read to first graders. I knew then that this would be a big part of my future.”
A graduate of SUNY College at Geneseo with a bachelor’s degree in English Education and SUNY Stony Brook with a master’s degree in Liberal Studies, Black earned her state school administrator certification from the College of New Rochelle. She retired last year from Kings Park school district, where she taught for 34 years as a secondary grade level English teacher. She has also been an Adjunct Professor for Syracuse University, teaching a freshmen-level writing course and a Narratives of Culture: Introduction to Issues in Critical Reading course. Black remains an educator. She is currently working on a professional development course for teachers and works as a leave replacement for young women on maternity leave.
“I love it,” says Black, who seeks to inspire others interested in pursuing a career in education. “Kids make you smile; they keep you young. I would encourage any person pursuing a career in education to go for it. Don’t let anyone discourage you. However, you need to discern and evaluate the reasons why you want to teach. Ask yourself some questions. Do you enjoy children and teenagers? Do you have a strong command of your subject matter? Do you like to read and research education and your educational area? Are you patient and fair-minded? Do you have a healthy sense of humor? If you truly can answer yes to several of these questions, the world of education needs you!”
Black remembers her English teacher, Mr. Zeitler, who was also a track coach at her high school. “Mr. Zeitler let me keep the statistics book for the boys’ team. All the while, I took note of everything that was taught about track and field,” explains Black. “Later on in my early 20s, I began running and I have not stopped since. In the classroom, Mr. Zeitler was energetic, dynamic, and engaging.”
Another mentor to Black was another high-school teacher, Ms. Kitty Lindsay, who was incredibly knowledgeable and well read. “I could converse with her forever,” says Black. “She taught me the importance of having a strong, solid knowledge-base as a teacher of English. I thank them each for giving me fine examples of what a successful teacher should be.”
But Black’s inspiration to succeed, not only in education but in life, has been her dad, a self-made man. “My dad believed that education and hard work were the keys to success and happiness,” states Black. “His patience, strong work-ethic, and kind example have been my motivation throughout the years. My dad had to quit school to support his mom and 3 siblings when his dad suddenly died at an early age. He became the bread winner when he started as a mail clerk for the Equitable Life Assurance Company at the age of 18.”
In her career, Black has taught every secondary level grade from 7th through 12th. She has enjoyed all grades for different reasons. “Middle-school and high-school students are very different, but I must say I enjoyed them both very much,” notes Black. “Middle-school students have high energy, are very inquisitive, and require more of a hands-on approach to learning. High-school students are more critical of your proficiency, and your ability to be able to reach them, intellectually and emotionally. Each level offers exciting challenges.”
She also believes that her experience as a coach of the Girls’ Varsity Soccer team for 10 years contributed to making her a better educator. “It was a wonderful chance to work with teenage girls in a different realm outside the English class,” adds Black.
What has been the greatest challenge of her career? Strangely enough, her greatest challenge occurred at the beginning of her teaching career. “I student taught and taught in an upstate facility for juvenile delinquent boys,” says Black. “These boys were 13 to 18 years old and were from all over the New York State area. They were serving time for various crimes. They were a captured audience, so-to-speak, but I found they really had a thirst for knowledge and learning how to read. Many had skipped classes back home because there was little-to-no supervision, so the amount of formal education they received was limited. I learned so much from those few years, and what I learned has remained with me throughout my career. I would say that it was then that the seeds of how to communicate with and teach teenagers were planted and took root.”
A mother of three children, teacher of 34 years, adjunct professor, and trustee on the Board of Education serving her third term, Black has also served on the District Mental Health Task Force and the Audit Committee, too.
“In the fall of 2003, the Huntington High School community suffered two profound losses by suicide; one a Junior, in November, the other a Sophomore, in December,” recalls Black. “It was a great tragedy that was met with counselors and staff dealing with grief-stricken students and disbelieving parents.” At that time, the District Mental Health Task Force was formed to deal with intervention and prevention and Black remained on the Task Force for two years.
She has also served on the Audit Committee, along with BOE member Rich McGrath and community member, CPA, Lynn Kirale, since its inception in 2006. “Throughout the year, we meet with Mr. Grackin, the Internal Auditors, and the External Auditors,” explains Black. “We report findings and recommendations to the entire Board. Our Auditors then report to the public at a board meeting. It has been a learning experience for me, one which I value greatly and one that is needed in order to be a well informed board member.”
In 2008, Black was awarded a Teacher of Excellence Award by the New York State English Council (NYSEC), a professional organization that supports teachers and students and offers professional development opportunities, a professional magazine, and a yearly conference with professional workshops, speakers, and exhibits. It is a prestigious award that, according to the Huntington Union Free School District website, “honors those teachers who are leaders in the classroom, collaborators with colleagues, and mentors for those teachers new to the profession.”
Black was nominated for the award by another educator who sent in the required three letters of recommendation: from an administrator, a peer and a student. A collection of three samples of teaching plans for units and projects, and samples of student work were also required. The Council reviews and then chooses the winners.
Over the years, Black has been a cooperating teacher for many students who were entering the field of education, mentor for first- and second-year teachers, and has taught new teachers’ workshops. “Nothing is more of a delight than witnessing the enthusiasm and vigor of those entering this incredible profession,” details Black. “There are so many opportunities in which teachers can become engaged, which in turn become invaluable learning experiences. All of these make you better at what you do. I have been fortunate over the years to glean and employ the knowledge from my students, colleagues, and new teachers who have all made me the teacher I am today. It was quite an honor for me to receive the award, and it was with great humility that I accepted it.”
Recently, as a member of the BOE, Black was faced with the difficult task of addressing the safety issues at Jack Abrams Intermediate (JAI) School in Huntington Station. At a recent BOE meeting, she voted no in a 4-3 vote regarding the creation of a unified 6th grade center at JAI. “The idea of a unified 6th grade at Jack Abrams was never one that was vetted,” explains Black. “There were never any discussions in Executive Session about the concept. There was never any research or substantive conversation in public about it, nor any presentation done by the Administration or Mr. Finello. There was never a public hearing to discuss a new configuration and receive feedback from the public. There had never been an indication that anyone was dissatisfied with the 4-6th grade configuration. It is not what I believe is a good example of community planning. Its haphazard, random insertion and lack of educational soundness made it very easy to vote ‘no’.”
What does she hope will happen in the future at JAI school, which is located in an area of Huntington that has been plagued with many problems for decades? “The neighborhood around the Jack Abrams School has been neglected for many years,” notes Black. “It is time for the Town Board to actively insert themselves into healing the area and ridding the station of gang activity, which includes illegal drug sales, violent crimes, and prostitution. The children cannot act as our crusaders any longer. The school has been there for many years and has not prevented the criminal activity from accelerating and expanding.”
What does Black suggest as a possible solution and what does she recommend we do to unite Huntington school district and move forward? “We must move the school to a safer location and let the town and the police do their work,” states Black. “The Central Offices can remain and other offices can move in. The idea of having a community center is definitely part of the conversation. There will be much positive activity, productive growth, and high energy in the Jack Abrams building to add to the revitalization that seems to be too slow in coming.”
Claudia D. Wheeler is a former editor–in-chief at Equal Opportunity Publications. After earning a master’s of arts degree in English, Claudia has worked for 16 years as a magazine editor and writer for numerous publications at PTN Publishing, SCP, and Fairchild Publications, Inc., now part of Condé Nast. She is currently a freelance writer and editor and full-time mom.