Thomson recalls 4 years as Queens education rep

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After more than four years in one of the city’s most unenviable public positions, Queens Board of Education Representative Terri Thomson used nothing but kind words this week to describe her tenure.

“When I look back it’s been a very wonderful, heartwarming experience,” said Thomson, a Flushing native who also works as an executive for Citigroup. “I can’t really think of a more rewarding challenge.”

Thomson expressed a positive attitude about her experience on the beleaguered Board of Ed until the end, working nearly every day before her term ended Friday.

On June 12, Gov. George Pataki signed historic legislation giving Mayor Michael Bloomberg control of the city public schools and ousting the current seven-member Board of Education.

The Board of Ed, which Thomson joined in 1998 after being appointed by then-Borough President Claire Shulman, is being replaced by a 13-member advisory board. The new legislation requires each borough rep on the new board to be a parent with a child in city public schools, a requirement Thomson praised.

“I’m really delighted to give up my seat to a parent,” Thomson said. “We have great parents in Queens and great parent leaders.”

A mother of two who sent her now adult children to parochial school, Thomson has earned widespread support from Queens parents in her time on the board.

In some quarters, Thomson is known as the Board of Education member who stood up to pressure from then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani by casting the deciding vote to bring in Schools Chancellor Harold Levy.

When Thomson later abstained from voting for Giuliani appointee Ninfa Segarra for board president and Shulman requested her resignation, a groundswell of support from Queens parents praised Thomson for not being swayed by city politics.

Queens is widely recognized as having the most overcrowded classrooms in the city and the most overcrowded high schools. In her four-year tenure, Thomson has championed the notion that every child should have a classroom seat.

“We’re just not giving our children the best we can give them because of the overcrowding,” she said. “If you see the human impact of it, you can’t help but be struck by that.”

This human impact, as Thomson describes it, is the elimination of after-school programs and “extras” such as libraries, science labs and gymnasiums which are often converted to classroom space.

In the most overcrowded schools in Queens, playgrounds are filled with trailers used for temporary class space. In some of the borough’s high schools, students are on split session and are forced to be in school either at 7 a.m. or until 5 p.m.

“We have to continue to talk about it,” said Thomson, who spoke just days before her term ended this week. “We have to continue to push the envelope until we have a seat for every child.”

Thomson’s passion for fighting overcrowding is almost equal to her disdain for the politics that plagued the seven-member Board of Ed, which was lambasted as a bloated, expensive entity that failed to properly run the city’s public schools.

“Would you say a perk is a staff person?” said Thomson, who emphasized that she has never had a driver or car from the city and has not sought reimbursement for her expenses during her tenure. “I have a wonderful special assistant, Anne Perzeszty, who works side by side with me. We get hundreds of phone calls every month from community leaders. Anne was by my side performing a great public service.”

Thomson, who said she is looking forward to a little relaxation, also pointed to a number of accomplishments while she was on the board, including:

• the state Legislature’s passage of a bill dictating that all new high schools built in the city would be based on year-round schedules.

• a translation policy adopted in October, requiring districts to send important community notices home in several different languages.

• a parental involvement policy that Thomson said was “probably one of the most comprehensive in the country.”

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

Posted 7:07 pm, October 10, 2011
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Reader feedback

American from USA says:
I read online about a Terri Thomson who destroyed the education career of a good man by engaging in blatant ad hominem by comparing the man to Adolf Hitler.
May 23, 2013, 1:18 pm

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