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Borough says good-bye to Board of Ed ‘warrior’

Queens educators, parents and students bid farewell to the borough’s Board of Education representative, Terri Thomson, last week as her four-year term ended and Mayor Michael Bloomberg was poised to take control of the city’s public schools.

The tribute ceremony, held last Thursday at PS 721 in Elmhurst, brought out a long line of people waiting to thank Thomson for her work, including Borough President Helen Marshall, Schools Chancellor Harold Levy, Queens Democratic Chair Tom Manton, and many others.

“We had a warrior down there at the central board and her name is Terri Thomson,” Marshall said. “We owe you so, so much.”

Marshall declared June 27 as Terri Thomson Day in Queens in honor of the borough representative, and PTA members at the presented her with a plaque, thanking her on behalf of the students she worked for.

Although Thomson’s term on the board has expired, changes in school governance prevent Thomson, a Flushing native and Citibank vice president, from serving on the new board.

On June 12, Gov. George Pataki signed legislation giving Bloomberg control of the city public schools and ousting the seven-member Board of Education on which Thomson served. The Board of Ed is being replaced by a 13-member advisory board, and the legislation requires each borough representative on the new board to be a parent with a child in city public schools.

Thomson has two grown children, who she sent to parochial schools.

Thomson’s farewell turned to a roast as Schools Chancellor Harold Levy took the stage. Levy worked with Thomson at Citigroup, and she cast the deciding vote to bring him in as head of schools.

“I would not have this job but for Terri, so I come to this with mixed emotions,” Levy joked. “Terri was the swing vote. Terri was always the swing vote.”

Levy praised Thomson’s moral compass, which he said “never wavered.”

“She voted her conscious every single time,” he said. “We are all, as a city, better off for having her on the board.”

Among her priorities on the board was easing the shortage of high school seats in Queens. Thomson worked with Queens High Schools Superintendent John Lee to pass legislation establishing year-round schooling and to add new high schools to the borough.

“She took as her mission to improve the overcrowded high schools,” Lee said. “None of this would have happened without Terri’s hard work.”

Lee presented Thomson with a poster of a student clinging to the outside of a window sill, saying, “I’m not skipping school, I fell out.”

Claire McIntee, superintendent of School District 26 in Bayside, lauded her determination.

“It’s very easy to be a leader when everyone agrees with you, but it’s not easy when everyone is pushing against you,” McIntee said. “Thank you, Terri, for being such an advocate.”

Others thanked Thomson for the individual approach she took with her job.

“It’s amazing how much of a hands-on person you are,” said Etta Carter, deputy superintendent of School District 28 in Forest Hills and Jamaica. “We know you have an interest in everything we do.”

Linda Glover, president of the PTA President’s Council, asked Thomson to stay close, if only as an adviser.

“We still really need her,” Glover said. “There’s still a lot to be done.”

And despite the fact that the new requirements for board representatives excludes her from the job, Thomson praised the idea of putting parents on the board.

“It’s wonderful parents will now be on the board,” she said. “We’ll finally have parents rooted in reality to set policy.”

Thomson recounted some of the many memories from her job on the board, including the testimony on American Sign Language from her first hearing, a green papier-mache hat students made for her, and the time when she opposed Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and had to convince her father not to call him up to yell at him.

“It was a great ride,” Thomson said. “From the highs to the lows, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 138.

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