Alicemarie Bresnihan, about to enter her 44th year as a trustee on the Lynbrook Board of Education, has a real insider's knowledge of the local schools.
Her and her late husband's nine children were students in district schools from 1960 through 1987, and all graduated from the system. She now has 21 grandchildren, including three enrolled in the Lynbrook schools. She is a familiar face at school concerts and athletic events and serves as a reading partner to students in the classroom.
Over the decades, she has faced some opponents for her seat on the board, but not many, she said in a recent interview. She has had a hand in the hiring of several superintendents and has overseen millions upon millions of dollars in annual district budgets.
"I really, really enjoy seeing our students and their achievements, and I just really feel very close to them, and I am very proud of our kids," said Bresnihan, who declined to give her age, saying she is "older than you think."
Bresnihan is one of the longest continuously serving trustees in public education on Long Island. The New York State School Boards Association does not keep a tally of how long board members across the state have served, although the group's officials said there are some in upstate districts who have spent 50-plus years as trustees.
The Nassau-Suffolk School Boards Association does not keep an official record of tenure, either.
Sydney Finkelstein of Elwood has been a member on the Western Suffolk BOCES board for more than 50 years. He was first elected to the Elwood school board in 1967 and to the BOCES board in 1979. He declined an interview, but officials at Western Suffolk BOCES honored him last year, saying he "is the consummate gentleman and an important, valued and highly respected board trustee. He has spent the majority of his adult life in service to the children of Long Island."
Bresnihan moved to Lynbrook in 1959 with her husband John. They were drawn to the village for its Nassau County location and the reputation of the school district, she said. Bresnihan was first elected to the board in 1975 after being very active in the local Parent Teacher Association.
It took her 30 years to earn her bachelor's degree from SUNY Old Westbury, but she did and retired in 2003 after working for 20 years as a probation officer for Nassau County. She also is a past president of the Nassau-Suffolk School Boards Association. Her husband died in July 2017.
Lorraine Deller, executive director of the Nassau-Suffolk School Boards Association, said Bresnihan has been a longtime advocate of education at the federal level as well, traveling to Washington, D.C., annually and meeting with local members of Congress during the year.
"You know, long-term, veteran board members bring a sense of continuity and a connection to the culture of the district and serve to inform and educate new board members," Deller said. "They serve a vital role."
As a trustee, dealing with the district budget is always a challenge, Bresnihan said, and she believes students and teachers both face more stress now than ever.
It's time, she said, for the State Legislature to put the "kibosh" on using student test scores to evaluate teachers — a move that caused much controversy and resulted in the state Board of Regents placing a four-year moratorium on that linkage, which probably will be extended past its scheduled end in June.
"I find that school is a lot more work than when my children were in school — a lot more is expected of kids," she said. "It is a hard job; teaching kids is a hard job."
Lynbrook schools Superintendent Melissa Burak said Bresnihan's longevity on the board "provides historical knowledge that is invaluable."
Jennifer Aboud, 49, is Bresnihan's youngest daughter, and her three children are district students. She said residents often say to her, "Your mother is amazing, and she knows all about the history of this community — and we need somebody like that."
Aboud said she does not really recall much about her mother being on the board when she was a student, but she said it is special for her children. She noted that Bresnihan serves on the board for all students.
Her mother travels to art shows that are out-of-district, and she is at football, basketball and lacrosse games. She even went to Carnegie Hall last year when local students were performing there, Aboud said.
Looking back over her time as a trustee, Bresnihan said that among the highlights was when the district of about 2,700 students has been recognized for its achievements. She is in the midst of her three-year term, and she is not sure if she is going to run again when she is up for re-election in May 2020.
"I haven’t made that decision," she said. "It has been a long time."