Laura Anker Grossman called the East Hampton School Board meeting to order for the last time on Tuesday night after 20 years of service, a bittersweet event attended by her husband, Stephen Grossman, her grandson, Mizel Faison, and a large audience of well-wishers.
Dr. Anker was gently ribbed by Richard Burns, the district superintendent, who passed around a photo of her next to her little red Toyota hybrid, a car in which she spends an inordinate amount of time each day commuting to and from her job as a professor at the State University at Old Westbury.
Mr. Burns read a letter, ostensibly from what he called the Privy Prius, describing Dr. Anker “with her pedal to the metal, and her ear to the phone” in her office-on-wheels.
“She goes on and on, and on, about the schools. I know all the scoops before anyone else,” Mr. Burns read. “With her energy level, I think she could power me up.” With that, he turned serious. “As she leaves her beloved board, we will remember that she is only a phone call away.”
The East Hampton High School chorus serenaded a tearful Dr. Anker with a rendition of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.”
Mr. Grossman read a letter from Dr. Anker’s daughter, Shanna Beth Schwartz, a third-generation educator. “I’m happy to be getting a little bit of Mom back,” he read. The letter described how Dr. Anker could always be found talking about the school and its initiatives “on the phone, in the grocery store, on the sidewalk, in the crosswalk.”
Mary Ella Moeller, an East Hampton resident who frequently attends — and sometimes criticizes — the board, came to the podium. “It’s been very nice working with Laura,” she said. “Even if I haven’t always agreed with her.”
“Welcome to the other side of the table as an unofficial board member,” Ms. Moeller offered.
During her two decades on the school board, Dr. Anker said, in an interview in April, that she has seen the number of students in East Hampton who go on to college rise from less than 50 percent to around 85 percent.
“We need to up that,” she said. “I want us to continue getting better.”
Dr. Anker describes herself as “a child of immigrants and public education.” Her father, Irving Anker, was the New York City schools chancellor in the 1970s, overseeing the largest school district in the United States. “I grew up committed to public schools,” she said.
Moving to East Hampton in 1986, Dr. Anker said “it took a lot of chutzpah” for her to run for East Hampton School Board within her first three years in the town. “But I really strongly believe that to be part of a community, you need to serve,” she said.
Of her accomplishments on the board, Dr. Anker is most proud of having been instrumental in bringing a pre-kindergarten program to East Hampton, and for writing the initial grant proposal for Project MOST.
Her daughter Rebecca was one of the first Latino students in the school system. “Diversity is a new thing for East Hampton. It’s a big adjustment,” she said. “But the world is changing. This is our global future and the future of East Hampton.”
“When we speak of the United States and its greatness, what we’re really talking about is upward mobility, the ability for everyone, every single child, to succeed. And the key to mobility is education.”
“And education doesn’t end when school ends,” she added. “Kids need to become lifelong learners.”
When asked what she will do with her newly acquired time off, Dr. Anker said she plans to stay involved with the East Hampton School District on some level. Mr. Grossman joked that he would no longer be able to enjoy his Tuesday boys’ night out.
“I’ll watch Mizel and make sure he does all his homework,” Dr. Anker told her 12-year-old grandson, whose eyes widened at the prospect.
The next school board meeting is on July 3, when Christina DeSanti will be joining the board. As of Tuesday, there was still no decision on who would be the board’s new president.