Members of the Syosset school community say superintendent Carole Hankin will be hard to replace when she retires in October after leading the district for 23 years.
Supporters call Hankin "a visionary," crediting her with the district's stellar academic reputation and for creating and protecting an array of clubs that appeal to students with diverse interests and strengths.
Critics have called the superintendent secretive and say she's paid far too much.
Hankin was thrust into the spotlight because of her earnings -- $405,244 in salary and roughly $102,000 in other benefits. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo cited her compensation as wasteful spending in 2011.
He earns less than half her salary.
Regent Roger Tilles said the community paid Hankin what they believe she's worth.
"If people don't like what her salary is . . . then they should vote against the budget," he said. "But they don't."
He said he's visited the district many times and is impressed by its art and science programs. Such things, he said, are often the first to be cut when times are tight, but Hankin knows what her community wants and is able to garner their support.
Her salary, he said, "is a minuscule amount compared to the benefits she has brought."
Hankin, who declined to be interviewed since announcing her retirement Tuesday night, said through a spokesman that she plans to write a book on education and to lecture on the topic.
School officials say they wish her well.
"She really did provide something for every child," said Syosset High School principal Giovanni Durante, who has worked at the district for 20 years.Her achievements are many, he said.
Hankin won grants to bolster myriad programs, partnered with the Metropolitan Opera so performers could mentor her students and established a foreign language program at the elementary level to foster students' overall academic performance.
"She has done nothing but outstanding things for our district," Durante said. "She is a true educational leader and prides herself on helping students of all abilities."
The superintendent earned a doctorate and two masters degrees from Columbia University and has certifications to teach at every grade level.
Rob Gershon, elected to the board in May, said trustees will meet next week to talk about a successor.
"We have not made a decision if we will hire someone permanently or start with an interim," he said. "It's not going to be an easy task. . . . This is not something we want to rush into."
Gershon has lived in the district for 10 years and was voted in as part of a slate promising greater transparency.
Tracy Frankel, also elected in May, but not as part of a slate, said she hopes the new superintendent is someone "dedicated to our children and to our staff . . . who is inclusive and who works well with the board of education and who is respectful of the public."
School board member Josh Lafazan, who was 18 when he was elected last year, has fought openly with Hankin during several board meetings and has often criticized her compensation package.
Lafazan said important and expensive contracts -- including Hankin's -- were extended at public meetings at which vague titles were used, making it impossible for residents to know what they were.
Lafazan said he's looking forward to the search, adding "I'm always excited for change."
Roberta Dochter, immediate past president of the district's PTA, called Hankin irreplaceable. "It's been under her guidance, her ideas, her research that we have come to where we are as far as being a top school district," she said. "I have immense respect for her."
Hankin's legacy, Dochter said, is the thousands of district students who have graduated from some of the nation's top colleges.
"I would love to see Dr. Hankin there forever, but good things have to come to an end," she said.