Ernest J. Kight Jr., president of the Freeport school board and a beloved longtime educator and coach in the school district, died of a heart attack Saturday. He was 68.
Kight, a graduate of Freeport High School, worked in the district’s schools for some 40 years, during which his deep devotion to students and athletes made him a father-like figure throughout the Nassau County village.
"He touched so many lives, so many families, over 40 years of education," said his wife, Diane Mary Caruso. "He loved the kids of Freeport, and that was his life."
Kight held a variety of positions in Freeport schools, serving as a social studies teacher, assistant principal, principal and school board president. But his engagement with students extended well beyond those roles, said Jeremy Impellizeri, who attended Freeport schools when Kight was an assistant principal and principal.
"When you needed to talk to someone, Ernie Kight was always there," said Impellizeri, 30. "His office door was always open. He knew everyone by first name, what they were going through, what they needed."
Caruso said it was not uncommon for her late husband to quietly provide support to community members outside of school as well, including helping struggling families to cover rent or buy Thanksgiving dinner.
"It was all quiet," she said. "Nobody else in the world would ever know."
Basketball was another passion of Kight’s. He played as a high school student and then coached the high school girls teams for some 30 years, Caruso said.
Shannon Skinner was one of his players.
"A women’s team, especially in basketball, would always be downplayed next to the men’s team," said Skinner, 36. "But you never felt that way at Freeport. It always felt equal there," a fact she attributed to Kight.
Kight held his players to high standards, Caruso said, requiring them to pass all of their classes and stay out of trouble. He also sought to make sure they all got to college.
"He wanted to make sure that all Freeport kids that he came in contact with had the same opportunities that he had," Caruso said.
Kight received a bachelor's degree in political science from Stonehill College in Massachusetts, a master's degree in special education from Hofstra University and an administrative certificate from LIU Post.
Freeport officials on Sunday mourned Kight’s passing. Mayor Robert Kennedy, in an interview, called Kight "a great, honest, fair person" who was "loved by everybody."
In a statement, Freeport schools Superintendent Kishore Kuncham called Kight "a passionate educational leader with unwavering support for our students, schools and community."
Kuncham added: "Mr. Kight’s love and support for his students, staff and the community was returned to him by all who knew him."
Besides his wife, Kight is survived by his father, Ernest Kight of Queens; sisters Vanessa Kight of Queens and Angelyn Kight of Freeport; and brother, Christopher Kight of Freeport. A public wake will take place Wednesday from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. at Hungerford & Clark Funeral Home in Freeport. A private funeral will take place the next day.