Written by Karen Gellender: firstname.lastname@example.org Friday, 20 April 2012 00:00
Jeffrey Rozran, a longtime English teacher at Syosset High School and the president of the Syosset Teacher’s Association (STA) died Saturday, April 7. He was 65; the cause was lung cancer. While Rozran will doubtless be remembered not only for his long teaching career and his role as an advocate for teachers’ rights, many of the students he taught will remember him as a friend. Rozran was one of those teachers who had a habit of forming lifelong friendships with the students he taught, a tendency that turned him from authority figure to mentor to close friend for many of those who graduated from Syosset High School in the last few decades.
The child of two public school teachers (or a “third-generation educator,” as he put it) Rozran spent his youth in Rockville Centre. After a brief absence from the Island to attend college at the University of Wisconsin and Point Park University, he returned home to teach. Residing in Commack, he spent the majority of his 38-year teaching career at Syosset High School.
In addition to serving as the president of the STA, he served on the executive board of the Long Island Federation of Labor. Rozran was also elected to the board of directors of New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) in 2002. At NYSUT, he was a part of the Regents Task Force on Teacher and Principal Effectiveness in 2010, which helped determine the guidelines for annual professional performance reviews (APPR).
He was also a vocal educational critic, launching his own education blog, educationli.com, in 2011. With his blog, Rozran sought to correct what he felt were many incorrect assumptions people make about teachers and education in general. Visitors to the blog can read Rozran’s thoughts on tenure and teacher performance indicators.
In his capacity as president of the STA, those who knew him said he took his responsibilities very seriously. “He believed that a union existed for the good of all its members, so he tried very hard to be fair,” said Kim Pritchard, vice president of the STA.
Pritchard worked with Rozran at Syosset High School for 23 years. Though they were in different departments (Pritchard teaches physics), she saw the STA president as a mentor: first, quite literally, as he participated in Syosset’s new teacher mentoring program when she was new to her field, but in a different way in later years as he groomed her to be the next STA president.
“He was great. He always wanted to make those around him better,” said Pritchard. “If I had to pick one word to describe him, it would be ‘giving’.”
Pritchard likes to share an anecdote about her mentor-turned-colleague: Once, he let someone borrow his car, only for the borrower to somehow set the car on fire. Pritchard was in the office when Rozran got the call.
“His first words were ‘Are you okay?’ and ‘Do you need me to pick you up’?, not ‘What have you done to my car?!’ remembered Pritchard with a laugh. Little things like cars being set on fire didn’t seem to get in the way of Rozran’s generous nature.
Perhaps a more revealing story comes from Valerie Nicholas, who had Rozran as her ninth-grade English teacher. After keeping up with Rozran over the intervening decade after graduation, she returned to Long Island from Manhattan after giving birth to her daughter, Natalie. Wanting the best school for her child, Nicholas asked Rozran how the Syosset schools stacked up against the competition these days: naturally, Rozran strongly encouraged her to come back and raise her family in Syosset.
However, instead of just suggesting that Nicholas return to his district, he worked to make it a reality; he put up the Nicholas family for over a year while their house was being constructed. For these friends who he now considered family, he participated in every event- birthdays, vacations, and trips to Disney World. For young Natalie, his goddaughter, every lost tooth was cause for celebration.
“He was, in the true sense, a godfather to Natalie,” said Nicholas, going on to say that Rozran never missed an event where her daughter was concerned.
As Natalie grew, he promised her that he would continue teaching at Syosset High School as long as she was a student there. In the spring of last year, he made good on his promise; as he addressed the Syosset High School Class of 2011, he stopped in the middle of his speech to congratulate Natalie, then left the podium and hugged Valerie, telling her she had done a good job raising her daughter. For Valerie, the moment was bittersweet, since she knew that Rozran had just started chemotherapy. Nevertheless, she could see how happy he was to have kept a very important promise to a very special young lady.
Natalie, 19, now in college, is studying writing; one could say Rozran would be proud, but then again, he was proud already. Also following in Rozran’s footsteps is April Kaufman, 27, his step-daughter, who now teaches in the New York City school system.
The board of education and the superintendent of schools have released a statement saying “The Syosset School District is saddened by the passing of our beloved English teacher and Syosset Teachers’ Union president, Jeffrey Rozran. Our heartfelt condolences go out to his family. He advocated for the best education for our children and for excellence in the Syosset community. We have lost a wonderful teacher and a dear friend.”
In addition to his stepdaughter and goddaughter, Rozran is survived by his wife, Luanne, and two sisters, Marcia and Ellen. Naturally, he is also survived by those who took more than just the knowledge of the classics from his classroom. An April 10 funeral at Gutterman’s Funeral Home was filled with Rozran’s former students, many of whom he now counted among his friends. Some, like Valerie Nicholas, even became his family.
“To be taught by him was luck, but to be loved by him was a privilege,” she said.