Superintendent Melissa Burak looks back at a decade of accomplishments as she prepares for her July retirement from Lynbrook Public Schools.
Burak was taken by storm in 2012 when she became interim superintendent. A few weeks after she started, the remnants of Hurricane Sandy hit the area hard. She had a rocky start, but quickly adapted.
“I remember driving to all the school buildings to post written signs regarding the status of the school opening,” Burak said. “Many people were without power so our robocall system only reached those with power. In my messages, I asked families to spread the word as well.”
Sandy was not the only major disaster that Burak had to face as she had to quickly learned how to navigate a pandemic.
“During the pandemic, weekly updates were provided to the families,” Burak said. “Everything we experienced was new to us all so providing whatever information I had was important.”
She kept a constant connection with students and their families providing updates on what was happening with the schools during the pandemic.
She also made sure that families didn’t run out of necessities. “Providing food to our families were also important during the pandemic,” Burak said. “We held a food drive and continued to offer families eligible for free and reduced meals. As for some, our food was their only source of nutrition. Staff volunteered their time, wore gloves, remained socially distant and used a great deal of sanitizer.”
The time between Hurricane Sandy and the pandemic, Burak said that Lynbrook Public Schools changed “a great deal.”
“At the foundation, there was an increase in economically disadvantaged families and an increase in our demographic diversity,” Burak said. “We created a welcoming environment and have a mantra for all students that states, ‘I belong in Lynbrook’.”
Burak’s goal was to create an environment where all students find something that makes them proud to be part of the Lynbrook School District.
“We increased extracurricular and athletic opportunities for students,” Burak said. “We also increased electives on the middle and high school level so students can begin exploring topics of interest.”
The science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics program, known as STEAM, was strongly implemented into the Lynbrook schools.
“There has been a heavy emphasis on the STEAM-related fields and special nights devoted to encouraging women in STEAM-related careers,” Burak said. “Our focus on the sciences have led to several Regeneron semi-finalists during my tenure as superintendent.”
There were additional “transformational changes” to the special educational system, according to Burak.
“Students on the elementary level in an integrated co-teach program now remain in their home schools, rather than being bused to school,” Burak said. This is for extra teaching support in classes for students who need that support.
“We increased the number of special class settings so students who might otherwise be placed in an out-of-district program can now stay close to home in our school district boundaries.”
Burak also introduced ways to promote mental health services by increasing the number of social worker and psychologist personnel to support the increasing mental health needs of our students.
Amongst all these achievements, Burak said her “biggest” and “hardest” one was modernizing Lynbrook High School.
“Lynbrook High School is the oldest, still functioning high school building on Long Island,” Burak said. “It was in desperate need of updates and modernization and after two votes, the students finally got a building they are proud to walk into every day.”
Getting the high school renovated was one of Burak’s dreams.
“We have state-of-the-art music, art, and science classrooms, a beautifully renovated auditorium, additional classrooms to support future programs, as well as air conditioning in all our school gymnasiums,” Burak said. “There have been numerous capital projects to improve our facilities over the last decade for which I am proud.”
Burak wished she were able to implement a few more programs during her time as superintendent.
“Covid derailed quite a few instructional goals I wanted for the district such as the AP Capstone program and more technology-related programs,” Burak said. “However, with Dr. Lynch being a part of all discussions, I know those plans will continue seamlessly.”
Burak said she will miss seeing the students in action the most and has plenty of plans for her retirement. “I will continue to travel and volunteer my time to non-profit organizations,” she said.