The schools in District 21 in Southwest Brooklyn have student populations that include large numbers of immigrants from Asia, Eastern Europe and other far-flung places around the globe. So perhaps it’s fitting that the new president of the district’s Community Education Council (CEC) is an immigrant whose love for her adopted country and curiosity about its school system propelled her career forward.
Anna Lembersky, who was recently elected by her fellow CEC members to serve as their president for the 2018-2019 school year, is originally from Ukraine. “I was born in Kiev,” she told this newspaper in a phone interview. She emigrated to the U.S. in 1993.
District 21 covers Coney Island and Gravesend, and includes parts of Bensonhurst and Midwood.
There are many different languages spoken in the district, Lembersky said. “We have many students who are English language learners. We have a little bit of everything,” she said.
Lembersky, who has been a CEC member for four years, was appointed to her current term on the CEC by Borough President Eric Adams. There are 32 CECs in New York City. Each is comprised of 11 members, nine who are elected by PTA leaders in local schools and two who are appointed by borough presidents. CEC members typically serve two-year terms.
The CEC, whose members are unsalaried, represent parents in their districts and advise the city’s Department of Education on policy.
District 21 has 20 elementary schools, six middle schools and 10 high schools. There are also two schools that go from sixth to 12th grade. All of the district’s schools are led by Superintendent Isabel DiMola.
`“We are very proud of our schools. Our district has always had a great reputation. Mark Twain is a great school for children who are gifted and talented. David Boody has a fantastic music program. But really, all of our schools are wonderful. The district has been blossoming for years,” Lembersky said.
Lembersky has blossomed into a confident parent leader, but she got her start by asking questions.
She became active in her local Parent-Teacher Association several years ago when her son, who currently attends Kingsborough Early College Secondary School, was a student at P.S. 99 in Bensonhurst.
“I did not know where to start. I did not grow up in this country and did not know about the educational system. But I was very pleased with P.S. 99 and I started attending PTA meetings to learn how the education system works,” she said.
Around that same time, Lembersky started to receive fundraising letters from the PTA asking her to help raise money for the school. “I wondered, ‘Where does the money go?’” she recalled.
So she began asking questions.
The PTA president’s response surprised her. “The president said, ‘Why don’t you become more involved? You should step up.’ I ended up running for a PTA position. From there, I started attending President’s Council meetings and I started to share what I had learned with other parents. I found that I loved helping out,” Lembersky said.
The PTA President’s Council is a group composed of PTA officers in a school district.
Lembersky became more and more active and eventually ran for a seat on the CEC. She won.
Her goal as CEC president is to improve the lines of communication between the CEC and parents in the district. “I want to continue working with the District 21 community and improve our ties to parents. We also need to focus on bringing in more parent leaders. We will try to have more parents involved in the school community, not just their child’s school,” she said.
Lembersky is aware that between working and raising their children, parents have busy lives and that it is difficult for them many of them to attend CEC sessions or PTA meetings. “I am a working parent,” she said.
Lembersky works for the New York State Department of Financial Services in a bureau that investigates insurance issues.
But even a busy parent can still be involved, she said. “Your presence doesn’t have to be physical. You can also be involved by being informed about educational issues and helping to inform other parents through phone calls, emails or on Facebook,” she said.
Sharing information is the key to ensuring that parents know their rights when dealing with the nation’s largest public school system, Lembersky said.