Former educator transitions into community activist via Hance Foundation board appointment
On Friday, July 13, the Floral-Park Bellerose School District (FPBSD) experienced its own piece of bad luck when Dr. Lynn Pombonyo, the district’s longtime superintendent, retired from her position. This misfortune was mitigated by the fortuitous hire of James J. Opiekun, the former superintendent of New Jersey’s Kinnelon School District, whose first day as the new FPBSD superintendent was on Monday, July 16. Originally hired to be the assistant superintendent for curriculum instruction back in 2004, Pombonyo ascended to the head position a year later after her predecessor Dr. William McDonald retired. And while the Uniondale native had prior academic stops in New Jersey and the North Shore, getting hired to work in the FPBSD was almost like coming home.
“I have several generations of my family that have lived here their whole lives. My aunts and uncles all went to John Lewis Childs School,” she explained. “I vacationed here when I was a little girl up on the north side of town. I always loved the town.”
An Educational Calling
In an academic career that spanned 40 years, Pombonyo started out her journey as a fifth-grade grade teacher in the Baldwin School District from 1972 through 1973. Over time she served as a principal in Syosset and a director for human resources and staff development for the Summit School District over in New Jersey. This dedication to shaping young minds was born through a lifelong desire to be involved in education.
“I always wanted to be an educator. I always felt it was very, very important,” she recalled. “I had teachers and professors in college that had a profound impact on my life. That’s all I ever wanted to be.”
After getting a bachelor’s degree in psychology at Muhlenberg College, Pombonyo burnished her credentials with a master’s in elementary education from Adelphi University, administrative certification from New York University and a doctorate from Seton Hall University.
Pombonyo always had a reputation as a very hands-on superintendent who was very visible on a day-to-day basis. She was the diametric opposite of the stereotypical ivory tower administrator who’s more comfortable with figures and paperwork than the flesh-and-blood staff, parents and student body that are the heart and soul of a school district. It’s a void that board of education trustee and friend David Fowler realizes will be hard to fill.
“With Lynn, particularly as my children were out of the school district, I really appreciated the fact that I really felt like I knew what was happening in our buildings, day in and day out,” Fowler pointed out. “[She] was easily the hardest-working and most student-centered superintendent that I’ve ever worked with. Now again, that’s not to denigrate [her predecessors]. As I’ve often joked about, the first couple of times my Blackberry went off late at night I was concerned. But then I realized that Lynn was working and had something she wanted to ask me.”
Through four decades of being an educator, Pombonyo has seen plenty of changes from a student body that’s become significantly more diverse as many more children are moving to the area from around the world. Adding to this shift is the increased tech savy pupils are now armed with when they come to class. She’s also seen her share of more foreboding shifts in policy. One unfortunate downside in particular that’s cropped in recent years is the major uptick in state mandates, requirements for new programs and tightened budgets that are roadblocks administrators around New York have had to contend with as a community’s citizenry are forced to grapple with annual tax increases. It’s a tightrope she and the board of education have walked in recent years while trying to do right by Floral Park’s children.
“We want everything to be about supporting students and increasing their learning and achievement. I think those mandates take time away from that. And the biggest challenge is the big funding changes that have taken place in education over the past few years,” Pombonyo said. “What is important is for the board of education, the administration, the staff, the community—everybody—to always keep their eyes on the impact on students. You have to make sure that you change these challenges into an opportunity to help and support students.”
The Next Chapter
While Dr. Pombonyo will miss the “kind of day-to-day progress, activities, new experiences that’s just amazing to watch,” she’ll still be very involved in the Floral Park community, having been asked to be on the board of the Hance Family Foundation as Director of Educational Outreach. The position puts her in charge of grant work and helping make sure that any donations given out gibes with the foundation’s mission statement. According to Executive Director Bernadette Smith, bringing the former superintendent aboard was a no-brainer.
“We’ve been working closely with her the past couple of years and a lot of our programs got started in the Floral Park-Bellerose School District. We worked together on several other educational programs and in addition, we made donations to the schools,” Smith explained. “[Lynn] was [always] very thoughtful and understood what the foundation was trying to get across so she made sure we worked together to make the most of those donations. We’re really excited to be working even more closely with Dr. Pombonyo in the future.”
As far as the former superintendent is concerned, this departure from the FPBSD is not so much a farewell as it is a fantastic opportunity to continue to shape young hearts and minds, particularly on the local level.
“I didn’t submit my retirement papers to the state until two weeks before my last day and it wasn’t because I was hesitant about retiring. It’s because I don’t view it that way,” she admitted. “I just view this as a continuum of finding it fascinating to work with children, finding it rewarding and finding it to be absolutely necessary that adults do that. So I’m just looking at this as, ‘What is the next step?’ It’s not about retirement. It’s about what can I do with the hours that I work in my current job and what I can’t do and what’s out there that may be of support and assistance to our community, school district and children in new and different ways. There may be some ways that haven’t been invented. The Hance Foundation and Leadership Foundation are two really big things with great potential [to do that].”