At the end of his senior year of high school in 2012, Peter Mountanos received the Paideia Award from the Wantagh Board of Education, given to a student who demonstrates stellar leadership.
Mountanos, who has just completed his freshman year at New York University, now is putting that leadership ethic to use. He formally joined the Wantagh Board of Education Tuesday night, after he was elected in May at the age of 18.
"I felt I would be able to provide a fresh voice for students and the entire community," he said. "Every student's voice and perspective deserves to be heard."
Teenagers have been elected to serve as school board members in districts across Long Island and statewide, though it's a rare occurrence. Last year, Joshua Lafazan won a board seat in Syosset at age 18. State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli was elected to the Mineola board in 1972, also at 18.
Mountanos said he reached out to Lafazan before he decided to run for the Wantagh board.
"I saw Josh Lafazan as a big inspiration," he said. "I saw last year he ran and he was able to do it and [thought] 'Why can't I?' "
Lafazan said he's confident Mountanos will "thrive" as a trustee. "He is smart, clever and a great representative for the Wantagh school district," he said.
Mountanos, with 909 votes, took the second-most votes in a seven-person race for two at-large seats. Also elected was Kera McLoughlin, co-president of Wantagh Special Education Parent Teacher Association, who received 1,568 votes.
District Superintendent Maureen Goldberg said she was looking forward to welcoming Mountanos and McLoughlin to the board and working with them. "I am confident both trustees will be an asset to the board," she said.
Mountanos ran on a campaign to improve technology in the schools and make Wantagh students more competitive in college admissions.
He attends New York University's Gallatin School of Individualized Study, where he is studying technology entrepreneurship. In high school, he was president of the National Honor Society, captain of the men's varsity volleyball team and Mathletes captain.
He is looking forward to working on the board but does not envision a future in politics.
"I wanted to run for the board because I wanted to make a change," he said.
Mountanos lives with his parents in Wantagh and will commute to college. Of his three siblings, two still are attending the Wantagh schools.
He said he plans to spend the summer immersing himself in the workings of the board. Other board members and the administration have welcomed him, he said.
Lafazan said he advised Mountanos to remember that he is on equal footing with the other trustees.
"It is often difficult to be on a board with people much older than you," Lafazan said. "You often forget you are an equal."