Frank Scott, Roosevelt schools activist, dies

Roosevelt School Board member Frank Scott speaks during Roosevelt School Board member Frank Scott speaks during a meeting at district administrative headquarters. (Sept. 20, 2012) Photo Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

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Frank Scott, a Roosevelt civic activist and driving force in school district efforts to boost student achievement, died Wednesday of pneumonia. He was 72.

Scott was the school board's vice president, and his death comes as the 2,700-student district is on the verge of regaining local control. Roosevelt is the only district in New York ever subjected to a state takeover, which expires at the end of June.

Admirers of Scott, a big, outspoken man with a soft spot for students from low-income families, described his passing as a major loss for one of Long Island's poorest districts.

"We're sorry, and we will be very sorry for a long time," said Robert Summerville, the board president and longtime political ally.

Some others in the community -- school employees included -- found Scott's bluff manner offensive. At a board meeting last month, Scott criticized unnamed teachers, administrators and fellow board members whom he accused of not doing enough to raise the district's chronically low graduation rates.

"I'm not going to butter things up," Scott declared then.

On Wednesday, the school superintendent, Robert-Wayne Harris, emailed a message to district employees praising Scott, but also addressing his combative style.

"Mr. Scott was a force to be reckoned with and, at times, his passion for children and education in the Roosevelt school community may have been misunderstood," Harris wrote. "Mr. Scott only desired the very best for our children . . ."

Scott was born in Manhattan on Sept. 18, 1940, and attended Boys High School -- now Boys and Girls High School -- in Brooklyn. He later graduated from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn with training in architectural drafting.

He worked more than 30 years in electronics sales and operations management, both in Brooklyn and Farmingdale, first for Arrow Electronics, then for Grainger Corp. In 1970, he and his second wife, Willa, moved to a Freeport neighborhood within the Roosevelt school district, and he began raising public questions about low student performance.

"He wanted to know why," said Willa Scott, who partnered with her husband in community and school district activities.

One of Frank Scott's major interests was Project GRAD, a nonprofit effort originally launched in Texas to help needy students graduate from high school and succeed in college. Scott served as president of Roosevelt's Project GRAD chapter and his wife as vice president. The organization distributed college scholarships of $6,000 to $8,000 to about 10 high school graduates each year.

Nassau County Legis. Robert Troiano (D-Westbury), a former Project GRAD executive director, described Scott as the man who kept the local organization alive. "A big man with a big heart and a soft spot for people in need," Troiano said.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by his son, Dwayne Scott, 50, who lives in the Los Angeles area; aunt Louisa Brandveen of Williamsburg, Va.; and many younger relatives whose educations were a major personal interest.

A wake is scheduled from 5 to 8 p.m. Monday at Cecere Family Funeral Home, 2283 Grand Ave., Baldwin. A funeral Mass will be said at 11 a.m. Tuesday at Queen of the Most Holy Rosary Church, 196 W. Centennial Ave., Roosevelt.

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