Lorna Lewis is the superintendent of Plainview-Old Bethpage schools and...

Lorna Lewis is the superintendent of Plainview-Old Bethpage schools and a board member of the New York State Council of School Superintendents. (March 9, 2012) Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Lorna R. Lewis, a curriculum expert and superintendent of East Williston schools, won unanimous appointment Monday night as chief of the larger Plainview-Old Bethpage system.

Lewis, 57, is to take over the 4,900-student Plainview-Old Bethpage district in August, succeeding Gerard Dempsey, who is retiring. Her current district enrolls 1,800 students. Her annual salary will be $265,000, though for her first year she'll be paid for 11 months.

Lewis served five years as schools chief in the East Williston district, home of The Wheatley School, which was recently ranked among the nation's 100 top academic schools by The Washington Post. Plainview-Old Bethpage officials voice hope that the new superintendent will assist their district's drive to join the top ranks as well. The high school there ranked 474th nationally in the Post survey.

"We think we're going to get a new level of energy and excitement and expertise," said Gary Bettan, president of Plainview-Old Bethpage's board of education.

A former math and physics teacher, Lewis is co-chairwoman of a curriculum committee for the New York State Council of School Superintendents. She is the first black woman to head a predominately white district on Long Island. "Success comes in all colors," she said.

Last year, Lewis became one of the Island's first superintendents to negotiate an agreement with her teachers' union, spelling out how their job performance would be evaluated under a new state system based partly on student test scores. Her negotiating skills could come in handy, once she takes the reins in Plainview-Old Bethpage. Historically, the teachers' union there has been one of the Island's most confrontational, and the group has been without a contract since June.

Earlier Monday, Morty Rosenfeld, longtime president of Plainview-Old Bethpage's teachers union, posted on his union's website a suggestion that improvement in management-labor relations, while possible, could be difficult to achieve. "I'm left to wonder how long this honeymoon will last," he wrote.

Lewis took an upbeat approach. "My history is one of collaboration and, certainly, I'll be using those tools to move the district forward," she said. "It's a great district, and has all the ingredients for success."

Other praised Lewis' record. "I have the highest regard for her -- she's a curriculum expert and this is a curriculum-oriented district," said Dempsey, who is generally credited with helping to stabilize Plainview-Old Bethpage's finances and academics during his five years there.

Mark Kamberg, president of East Williston's board, said Lewis had "always made sure that all our schoolchildren remained challenged."

Latest videos