By Brittany Grund
Laura Lavine, Class of 1973
Education: Bachelor of Science in Speech Pathology with a minor in Audiology and Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology from Ithaca College.
Career: Had a 40-year career in education, including working as a teacher, principal, Director of Special Education, Assistant Superintendent and Superintendent in Onondaga Central, Liverpool, Clarkstown, Chittenango and LaFayette school districts. She also taught and supervised graduate students in special education at Syracuse University. After retiring, she decided to run for Mayor of Syracuse in 2016. Lavine, the Republican party candidate, finished fourth in the race.
Family: She and her husband, Donald Fitzgerald, live in her childhood home in Syracuse, New York.
What made you shift from being an educator to running for mayor?
As a lifelong resident of Syracuse and a 40-year public-school educator, I have observed decades of decline in Syracuse. The majority of people shared that same opinion when I knocked on doors. I believe that much of our problem is attributable to underperforming schools, and that was a main focus of my campaign. The other three platforms were public safety, adding jobs/decreasing poverty, and bringing ethics reforms to city government. I believe that those are the keys to getting the city back on track.
To what do you attribute your overall career success?
We are a family of hard workers who place a high value on education. My parents never veered from the message about school — it was understood that my siblings and I would go to college. I have had the great fortune of having two siblings who served as role models, inspiring, guiding and supporting me every step of my way. They helped me to become an independent thinker who makes good choices and they have supported me in my aspirations and decisions. My husband has been my No. 1 champion. He continually encourages me to seek new opportunities because he believes in my ability to effect positive change. Last but not least, I have a nephew (Drew Lavine MPH ‘09) who is an endless source of practical wisdom and humor that cannot be matched.
What are you most proud of?
A: On a professional level, I’m pleased with the ways my colleagues and I found over the years to increase student achievement. From the inclusive preschool program that I started 30 years ago, to the continued emphasis on literacy and pathways to graduation, it is gratifying to know that the work I did with some superb educators has helped students and families.
What did you want to be when you were in high school?
High school was difficult because my father was nearing the end of his life due to cancer. He died when I was in 11th grade. There was no grief counseling in those days. My friends got me through that painful time, but I wasn’t thinking too much about what I wanted to be. From a young age, though, I had been interested in how children acquire communication skills, so I entered the field of speech-language pathology. I chose Ithaca College because when I was a junior at MPH, I was the piano accompanist for 12th grader Barb Quant during her weekly cello lessons there. Ithaca College ended up being a great fit for both my undergraduate and graduate work. Speech-language pathology was a very rewarding career.
Have you seen yourself change since then?
A: In many ways, I have changed. Like others, I have become more grateful as I age — grateful just to be here. I also view age very differently. At 25, I never would have imagined that at 62, I would have the desire to work and stay professionally engaged that I do now.
How did MPH contribute to your success?
A: Where MPH contributed to my success was in the people I met and who became lifelong friends. For such a small cohort of students, the quality of people I met was superb. The friends I made are of sterling integrity, have a strong work ethic, are now all accomplished in their chosen careers and families, and have remained loyal to each other for 45 years. The fears that I had as a 14-year-old about whom I would meet at MPH were completely unfounded.
To the contrary, it was a great move on my parents’ part because not only did I keep my public school friends, but I was able to meet a wonderful cohort of students whom I would never have known otherwise and who have influenced my life in countless ways over the years.
What advice do you have for MPH students?
A: This is not profound, but it’s advice that I wish I had followed, more so in college than at MPH: don’t miss opportunities to try something new. Attend events and functions that don’t appeal to you. Try joining a club that is out of your areas of interest. Take lessons in something that you think you don’t like. You never know what skills, talents or passions you might unleash, or what wonderful new friends you might make.
What was it like campaigning for mayor?
It was energizing. As a Republican in a nearly 4:1 Democrat city, I knew that it would be an uphill battle, but I believe that Syracuse has the potential to be turned around. What I didn’t anticipate was the benefit I would gain by being a candidate. I learned a great deal about government and politics, and met some wonderful people. Campaigning for mayor was a great experience, one that I never could have imagined when I was at MPH, but it underscores my point about stretching and trying new things at every age. One never knows what new doors will open and the opportunities that await.