A Long Island school board president called a "huge child advocate" by his peers is receiving a first-ever state award for enriching the lives of students in his community.

Robert Vecchio, of the William Floyd school district in Mastic Beach, is getting the "Champion for Change" award from the New York State School Boards Association. He will be honored during the Nassau-Suffolk School Boards Association's annual banquet Thursday night at Woodbury Country Club.

The award recognizes "innovative and ethical leadership that has brought about groundbreaking improvements" in a school district's programs and operations, the state association said.

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Vecchio has served on William Floyd's board of education since 2003 and has been the panel's president for the past nine years. His fellow school board members nominated him for the award, and he was selected out of nominations from some 700 districts throughout the state, he said.

"By recognizing me, they're really recognizing the whole William Floyd team," said Vecchio, who works as a controller for an East End health care company. "It's a great honor and very humbling to be selected."

During his time on the board, the district has developed an in-house career and technical education program to give teenagers instruction for careers in six fields: automotive technology, business, carpentry, cosmetology, culinary arts and medical assisting. The program's enrollment has grown to 200 students since its inception three years ago, he said.

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Vecchio said he is most proud of the district's graduation rate, which has risen to 80 percent, including August graduates.

"Robert is a bundle of energy and he's not afraid to think outside the box," said Superintendent Paul Casciano, who became the district's schools chief the same year Vecchio was named board president. "What we call our mantra is: 'Doing the right thing the right way.' And he really personifies that."

Vecchio also is credited with spearheading the Town of Brookhaven's first "Our Community Salutes" program this month to recognize high school graduates who enlisted in the armed forces. The ceremony honored 20 seniors from William Floyd and four other districts -- Bellport, Center Moriches, Longwood and Patchogue-Medford.

In addition, Vecchio was a key supporter of the establishment of William Floyd's Family Center, which provides students and families with counseling, educational and support services. It was created through a partnership with the Huntington-based nonprofit Family Service League.

"Bob Vecchio is a role model for future school board members," said Lynne Lenhardt, president of the New York State School Boards Association.

Vecchio is a member of the Nassau-Suffolk School Board Association's Legislative & Executive Committee and a trustee at St. Jude Roman Catholic Church in Mastic Beach.