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‘When I first met her, I was so impressed’

Civil rights group honors local educator


Educator Dr. Lorna Lewis, of Freeport, received ERASE Racism’s Abraham Krasnoff Courage and Commitment Award at the Garden City Hotel on June 11.

ERASE Racism is a regional civil rights organization, based in Syosset, which educates the public and exposes ongoing structural racism, particularly in public school education and housing. ERASE is an acronym for Education, Research, Advocacy, Support to Eliminate Racism. The nonprofit hosts an annual benefit, and recognizes community leaders for their contributions to the greater Long Island community.

Lewis is superintendent of the Plainview-Old Bethpage Central School District, and was formerly the science chairwoman of the Rockville Centre and Uniondale school districts and superintendent of the East Williston district.

She was honored along with Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, president emerita of Spelman College, who also received the Abraham Krasnoff Courage and Commitment Award.

Georgica Green Ventures LLC, a leading developer of affordable housing for low-income households on Long Island, was recognized with the ERASE Racism Leadership Award, which was accepted by David Gallo, the company’s founder and CEO.

The Krasnoff Courage and Commitment Award is named for the late Abraham Krasnoff, of Glen Cove, who was chairman, president and CEO of the Pall Corporation, a global leader in high-tech filtration systems, headquartered in Port Washington, one of Long Island’s largest companies. He was chairman of the board of the Long Island Community Foundation when ERASE Racism was founded in 2001 and a key member of the organization.

After receiving the award, Lewis said she was taken aback by the recognition. “It’s a real honor,” she said. “After looking at the people who have received this award, I didn’t consider myself to be in that category at all, but it appears my work has deemed me worthy of such an award.”

Lewis said she was surprised to be honored alongside Daniel Tatum, an educator whose works she has read and admired over the years.

Lewis emigrated from Jamaica at age 16, and enrolled at Fordham University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in physics. She went on to earn a master’s in physics from Rutgers University and a doctorate in science education from Columbia University’s Teachers College. She is the first woman of color to serve as president of the New York State Council of School Superintendents, and now represents more than 800 top education leaders statewide.

According to Elaine Gross, founder and president of ERASE Racism, Lewis was recognized for her extensive work to improve education equity for students of color over the past 40 years. She has also served on the ERASE Racism Board for the last five years.

“People just raved about her,” Gross recalled of when she first heard about Lewis. “I knew she was someone that was highly respected, so I asked her to join our board.”

Lewis, according to Gross, has spent countless hours researching education equity and seeking solutions to provide all students with equal opportunities, regardless of socioeconomic standing, race, gender or disability.

“I immediately understood how committed she was to racial equity when she came on to the board,” Gross said. “She was concerned about the disparities in achievement in African-American and Latino students in her district.”

Lewis’s research, according to Gross, was the backbone of curriculum inclusion models that many districts have instituted. Among the many topics of her research, she has studied the International Baccalaureate programs, which challenge and encourage students to excel in their personal development and academic studies.

Education, Lewis said, is her calling. “I love it,” she said. “I love the impact we have on children and what we can do for their future.”

Dr. Joan Lange, co-chairwoman of the ERASE Racism board and former assistant superintendent of the Roosevelt and Rockville Centre school districts, met Lewis when she was the assistant principal at South Side High School in the mid- 1990s.

“When I first met her, I was so impressed with her,” Lange said. “She insists on incredibly high standards for all students, and she sees in every student the opportunity for amazing achievements.”

According to Lange, Lewis was particularly attuned to students in need of support, and sought to understand why they weren’t performing well in their studies. “She was very instrumental in helping the district move forward,” Lange said. “We were successful in challenging all students with rigorous and relevant coursework.”