PROFILES IN EDUCATION
Dr. Carole Hankin:
Creating A Unique District
Dr. Carole Hankin’s formula for success is a simple one: “I believed early on that I wanted everyone to have what I wanted for my kids as a mother,” explains the superintendent of the award-winning Syosset school district, a 10-school, 6700-student district in Long Island.
Munching thoughtfully on a burrito at the Upper East Side bistro Sarabeth’s, Hankin—her youthful good looks belying the fact that she is a grandmother of nine and boasts a thirty year career in education—is deservedly proud of the curriculum she’s helped to shape during her 17 years at the helm of one of the best school districts in the state. “We have something for everyone,” she explains as she reels off a diverse curricular menu that includes novel programs in almost every subject area. There’s the elementary foreign language program, which offers students a virtual, whirlwind trip around the globe before they’re in their teens: Russian in kindergarten; Chinese in first grade; Spanish, French, and Italian in grades two, three, and four; and Latin in grade five. For those who may struggle with the rigors of A.P. Physics, there’s a high school course in forensics, as well as Syosset’s unique pond ecosystem known as the Geological, Ecological Research Facility (GERF), complete with paw paw plants (renowned for their potential cancer-curing capabilities) imported from Kentucky. “I believe that some day someone from Syosset is going to find a cure for cancer,” says Hankin with utter certainty. There’s also a middle school etiquette course, a yoga strand to help young children focus their minds and bodies, and teaching relationships with some of Manhattan’s finest institutions, including the Metropolitan Opera, the Philharmonic, Rockefeller and Columbia Universities.
Despite the seemingly effortless way in which Hankin seems to get things done—she’s brought Senator Hillary Clinton and three of the state Regents into the District as speakers—she was not born with a silver spoon in her mouth. Hankin received her bachelors degree from Sarah Lawrence College when she was already the mother of three small children, following it up with two masters degrees and a doctoral degree from Columbia, not to mention a handful of certificates from continuing education programs at Cornell, Yale, Harvard and Wharton. Hankin believes that her lifelong quest to attain professional credentials helped her to grow exponentially in her jobs: “I was with brilliant people, and I was always learning new skills,” explains Hankin, whose professional honors now consume a full page on her curriculum vitae.
Hankin’s tireless work ethic defines her longstanding tenure in Syosset, where she is an indefatigable advocate for the children of her district. “There is no minute of my life that I’m not working for Syosset,” she explains. Hankin is known to pick up the phone frequently to call upon her local legislators for funding above and beyond her annual budget allotments, often with successful results: a quarter million grant for new elementary school playgrounds and funding for both a peer leadership program and a module on heart health with a leading Columbia University cardiologist are some of her most recent coups. But what makes Hankin happiest of all are sometimes the most simple accomplishments. It’s as gratifying to Hankin delivering on a personal promise to an elementary student to upgrade the bathroom amenities as it is to congratulate yet another raft of Intel science award winners from Syosset.
What’s next on her crowded agenda? Hankin would like to secure more funding for Smart Boards (interactive white boards that provide computer linkages) and e-books, dispensing more resources to the technological tools students will need for the twenty first century. And she’s eager to be part of the national policy debate on No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which she believes can be significantly improved through minor tweaking, such as reducing the number of tests students are required to take.
As she picks at the last shards of burrito on her plate, Hankin ponders some of her role models. Number one is her husband, Dr. Joseph Hankin, longstanding president of Westchester Community College, who encouraged her to pursue her educational goals during her busy years of motherhood and offered her the support to follow her dreams. Other paragons, not surprisingly, include Ayn Rand and Betty Friedan, strong women who were not afraid to think outside the box and work hard to help generations of young people achieve greatness. No doubt, Carole Hankin has, in turn, become a role model for countless students, teachers and parents for whom she has advocated so tirelessly in her district.#